Mark watched Elizabeth from the comfort of the park bench.
She wasn’t ten feet away from him.

Her long blonde hair blew in every direction as she went for
broke on the swing, pushing harder and harder each time using her entire body
to gain momentum. Each time she reached a new peak height, “Daddy, daddy look
how high I am!” with the brightest smile in the park spread across her five
year old face.

She looked so much like her mother. The last post card he’d
got from Christina was three years ago. Shortly after she’d left him, their
daughter, and the rest of her life for Los Angeles to become famous it had
shown up in the mailbox. She had an audition for a recurring role on CSI. Mark
never saw an episode with her in it.

The stranger sat down next to him. The man was older with
salt and pepper hair, not quite a grandfather but a little old for a father.

A silent polite nod was exchanged between the two men
followed by a couple minutes of silence, during which Mark watched his daughter
move from the swings to the monkey bars.

Two young boys watched her make her way across the twelve
rungs. One gave the other a little shove and Mark heard him say, “If a girl can
do it, you can’t be scared to.”

Mark smirked to himself.

The stranger leaned forward clasping his hands together and
leaning his elbows on his knees. He was moving his head around as if he was
looking for something or someone.

Mark hadn’t seen this man before. Enough visits to the park
and you got used to a certain crowd and the usual suspects; the snob-moms, the
loud family, the Me-First kids, and all the others that made up the animal
kingdom that was the concrete jungle play park.

Something was tugging at the far reaches of Mark’s
subconscious. A warning that something was off.

Not necessarily with the stranger. After all, it was a
public park bench. There were no rules about having to have a kid playing at
the park to sit on the bench. Maybe he was just out for a stroll and got tired.

The stranger looked over his shoulder suddenly at the small
expanse of grass that separated the suburban street from the park’s parking
lot. Mark followed his glance. Other than the handful of idle cars and the
minivan, there was nothing to see – not even any traffic.

The stranger spoke staring straight at the park, the kids
and their parents, seeing none of it.

“I was in my house, getting a glass of juice. I was hit with
a wave of nausea. I was disoriented and felt like I just needed to get out. So
I left the juice on the counter and walked out. I’m not even sure I locked the
front door.”

Mark listened intently. Something about the way the stranger
was speaking demanded his attention.

“That was only fifteen minutes ago. Now I’m on this bench
and the feeling’s stronger. Something is wrong. Or going to be wrong.”

The stranger paused and turned to look at Mark for the first
time. The rims of his eyes were red and tears had welled up to the tipping
point. The stranger blinked once and tears trickled slowly down his cheeks.

“You feel it too don’t you?”

Mark was not scared because of the way the stranger was
speaking, or because of the odd things he was saying. Mark was scared because
he did feel it too.

Mark looked for his daughter. He’d decided it was time to
go. Elizabeth had returned to the swings and it looked like she’d made a
friend. Another girl about the same age was swinging on the seat right next to
her and they were talking about something, the squeal of the swings’ chains
repeating incessantly.

Mark stood up and called out, “Elizabeth!”

She didn’t hear him or was too distracted by her
conversation with her new friend.

He was about to try again when a big gust of wind passed
through the park.

“Oh my God…” said the stranger.

Mark turned to look at the stranger and saw he was staring
at the park with a look of horror on his face.

Mark turned back to the park and saw that every child and
parent had collapsed, right where they’d been.

There was a boy who looked asleep at the bottom of the
slide, two boys on the tire swing leaning limply inward, their bodies each
holding the other one up. The tire swing circled slowly above the body of what
Mark assumed was one of their parents.

Elizabeth lay in a heap of blonde hair and her matching pink
t-shirt and shorts beneath the still swaying rubber seat of the swing.

Mark ran to her side, turned her on her back and brushed her
long hair out of her face. Sand had clumped at the edges of her lips collecting
on the saliva after she’d fell face down off the swing. He brushed that away
too. All the time calling out her name louder and louder as if she might just
be asleep and need to be woken up.

He felt for a pulse. About seven years ago he’d taken a CPR
course, paid for and provided by the company he was working for. He had yet to
use anything he learned there, but what he was doing seemed like it was right.

He put his ear down to listen for any signs she might still
be breathing. As he listened he realized he heard nothing. Not just from his
daughter’s mouth or lungs, but no ambient noise either. No cars, no birds, no
people.

He looked around for a moment and saw the stranger still
sitting on the bench, but now the tears were flowing freely and he shuddered
slightly as he sobbed.

Mark fought back tears of his own. There was no time for
that he thought, and continued to fight against the urge.

Mark returned his attention to his daughter, tilted her head
back, and tried to breathe life back into her. Three breaths and then chest
compressions.

As he counted out the compressions he found himself looking
around.

What the hell had
happened?
he wondered, Was this
bio-terrorism? Have we been attacked?

Elizabeth was not responding and Mark began to lose the
fight against the tears. They broke free and he had trouble seeing clearly past
them.

A hand touched his shoulder taking him by surprise and he
spun around blindly throwing a punch.

The stranger caught his punch and whispered, “We have to go.
Someone’s coming!”

“What?” Mark was having trouble comprehending.

The stranger pointed to the street just as the first white
van pulled up to a screeching halt. Mark realized he could hear other vehicles
as well. He looked to the sky and saw not one but four large white helicopters
pass overhead.

“They’re here to help.”

“How can we know that?” the stranger asked.

Mark couldn’t answer that. He just didn’t want there to be any
other reason.

Six men unloaded from the back of the van all of them
dressed head to toe in white. Only their eyes were visible. Two of them began
to unload what Mark recognized as a pallet jack from the rear of the van. Mark
used to work in the receiving department for a toy store and had used them to
move the boxes of toys around on wooden pallets. The other four men in white
headed directly for the park.

Mark and the stranger were hidden from view for the moment
by the park structure.

Mark got up. He was going to get their attention. He was not
going to let Elizabeth die. The stranger grabbed his arm and pulled him back to
a crouching position.

“No! Wait!”

“Get off me!” Marked cried out too loudly for the stranger’s
liking, “I’m not going to let my daughter die because of some paranoid old
man!”

“Look!” the stranger whispered urgently.

Mark and the stranger watched as a woman came running down
the sidewalk toward the men.

“Help! Help me!” she was screaming, “My daughter. She won’t
get up, she just fell –“

She got within five feet of the nearest man in white and
another of them pulled a gun from a holster on his leg and shot the woman dead
center in her forehead.  A spray of what
must have been blood and brains shot out from the back of her head. Her legs
continued forward and she landed flat on her back.  He had not heard the crack of a gun shot, so
Mark assumed they were using silencers. The only people he thought would use
silencers are those that shouldn’t be firing a gun in the first place.

The shooter approached the man who’d been closest to the
woman and yelled angrily at him in what sounded like Russian.

The other two men in white continued forward as if nothing
had happened.

Two more white vans pulled up behind the first and more men
dressed in white unloaded themselves and more pallet jacks. Mark watched as
four teenagers that had been playing soccer and now lay motionless on the grass
were piled onto a pallet jack by the men in white.

“We have to go!” the stranger demanded, “We can hide at my
house!”

“But, my daughter…”

“There’s no time! You can’t save her if you’re dead too!”

Mark looked at his daughter. Then at the men in white.  Then he turned to the stranger.

“Help me hide her at least.”

The stranger’s shoulders dropped slightly and Mark knew he
was giving in. Mark pointed at the enclosed wooden structure beneath the
platform that served as the launching pad for both the monkey bars and the
slide. It was the place from which many a mud pie had been served up at the
little counter built into the one side. Opposite the counter and under the
shade of the slide was the open back of the enclosed space that served as both
entrance and exit for the kids. If they could get Elizabeth behind the counter
she might not be found.

The two men picked her up and easily lifted her over the
counter and placed her gently on the sand.

They looked up and saw the men had almost made it to the
bench they’d been sitting on not five minutes ago.

Mark leaned in over the short counter and kissed her cheek.
He whispered, “I love you Noodle.”

Behind him he heard the stranger urgently whispering, “We
have to go!”

Then they were running. He blindly followed the stranger
with tears blurring his sight, not remembering the last time he had run so
fast.

Street after street, in front yards and back yards and the
paths in between, the bodies laid where they’d been.

They were cautious about being seen, not knowing if there
were more vans with more men dressed in white.

“I’m Mark,” he said introducing himself while wiping the
tears away from his eyes, sniffling, and finally beginning to get a hold of
himself.

“Brian Knowles,” was the whispered response.

A helicopter passed very low overhead and they both froze
mid-stride. It looked like it would pass right over them, but then it seemed to
slow for a moment. Mark could hear his heart thumping away in his ears. He
wondered if a sharp shooter could take them out from a helicopter six stories
high in the air.

The helicopter sped off leaving them behind. They began to
run again.

“Where do you live Brian?”

“Meadowlands Drive right behind the Quickie Stop.”

Mark knew the area. There were a bunch of townhouses in
behind the convenience store. They were a block away from it now.

They followed a path between two houses that lead to
Meadowlands Drive. They surveyed the street and saw a car still running that
had smashed into a fire hydrant, its rear end stuck out blocking most of the
narrow street. The water was spraying straight up in the air like a geyser. A
white van was parked on the far side of the hydrant from where Mark and Brian
were crouching.

They both held their breath as the rear doors of the van popped
loudly open, the sound echoing through the otherwise silent neighbourhood.

A man in white climbed out and as he did Mark could see
right through to the driver and passenger seats. This man in white seemed to be
alone.

They watched as he made his way to the driver-side door of
the crashed car and with a little effort pried it open. He pulled a knife from
its sheath on the side of his leg and pushing the airbag out of his way slashed
the driver’s seatbelt off and pulled the elderly woman from the vehicle. He laid
her none too gently on the ground and got in behind the wheel.

This was his chance thought Mark. He ran out from the path
and directly at the crashed car.

“What are you doing?!” Brian whisper-yelled.

Mark was at the rear bumper. The man in white was trying to
start the car. Before Mark knew what was happening, the man in white had turned
in his seat, drawn his gun and from a sitting position shot Mark in the leg. He
climbed out of the car as Mark fell against it.

Mark scrambled backwards and around the rear bumper, tripped
on his dragging injured leg and fell to the ground landing on his boney butt.
The pain from his rear and his leg were nothing compared to his fear of the man
in white. He pulled himself across the asphalt like an injured crab, the man in
white calmly following him.

Mark felt something nudge up against his back and realized
he’d backed himself up to the bumper of the white van.

The man in white raised his gun and took aim at Mark’s head.

Then the man was roaring. His arms raised to the sky, he
fired two rounds into the air. He spun around turning his back to Mark. A knife
was stuck into his lower back. A pool of dark red was swelling around the
knife’s hilt. Mark got to his feet. The man aimed the gun at Brian. Mark pulled
the knife from the man’s back. The man spun back toward Mark. Mark buried the
knife in the man’s stomach. The gun dropped to the ground. Mark removed the
knife and the man in white dropped to his hands and knees. Mark’s hand that
held the knife was covered in blood and shaking badly.

Brian stood angrily staring at Mark his chest heaving as he
tried to catch his breath.

Mark picked up the gun – a small handgun – and thought about
his daughter. He looked at the man in white who was staring back at him like a
beaten dog.

“Do it.” The man said in a thick accent.

Mark flipped the gun over in his hand holding the warm
barrel in his palm. He brought it down hard on the back of the man’s head. The
man let out a shout of pain but remained on all fours.

Funny, Mark
thought, that always works on TV. He
tried it again. This time the man in white fell unconscious onto the street.

“What was all that about?” Brian demanded.

“Where’d you get the knife?”

“The guy had a sheath on his pant leg. I saw it when he cut
the woman’s seatbelt.”

“You pick-pocketed him and then stabbed him?” Mark smiled. He
felt the giddy tickle of a laugh he knew was nerve-induced.

“We’re almost safe. Let’s go.” Brian said nodding his head
down the street and away from the van.

“I need to know what’s going on and this guy knows.”

“For all you know he’s just some Russian muscle that’s
following orders and knows nothing!”

“You thought they sounded Russian too, eh?” Brian nodded and
Mark continued, “Anyway, we’ve got nothing to lose.”

“How about our lives?”

“Mine’s not worth anything if I lose Elizabeth. Plus, it
seems like I’ve got you to pull my ass out of the fire. Thanks by the way.”

“Like I had a choice.”

“You did Brian. You could’ve run. You didn’t. Now help me
pick this guy up.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re taking him to your place. Interrogate him.”

“You ARE crazy.”

“You said it yourself, Brian. We’re almost safe. This is our
chance to figure out what’s going on and maybe stop it, or at least warn the
people who can stop it. Now help me get this guy on my shoulders before another
chopper flies by.”

Five minutes later Mark and Brian were entering the
townhouse parking lot. The man in white was now more like the man in pink but
Mark could still feel him drawing breath, his body pressing up against Mark’s
neck in the fireman’s carry.

Brian led them to a corner unit and unlocked the front door.
As they opened it they both heard a rustling noise behind them. They stood
unmoving on the front steps for a moment and then saw movement in the nearby
bushes.

A little boy’s head poked out. He was about Elizabeth’s age
and looked scared out of his mind.

Brian recognized him.

“Gregory? Is that you?”

The boy disappeared back into the bushes.

Brian turned to Mark.

“Get that guy inside. Before you get to the kitchen, the
basement door is on your right.”

Mark nodded and headed inside.

Brian looked cautiously around before stepping out into view
and away from the porch again.

“Gregory. It’s Mister Know Less.”

A little giggle came from the bush. Gregory was the
neighbour girl’s boy. She was a little young he thought to be a mother, but she
seemed to take good care of him. Gregory was usually a happy, talkative little
guy. He hadn’t learned to say Brian’s last name properly.  His mother and Brian always smiled or
chuckled when Gregory called him Mister Know Less, so Gregory had learned to
also laugh at it.

Gregory peeked out from the bushes again still looking
scared, “Everbody fell asleep, but it’s not bedtime yet.”

“Where’s your mom Gregory?”

“Asleep in the kitchen. I told you everbody went to sleep.”

“How did you get outside?”

“I used the door?” Gregory answered with his best well-duh
tone of voice.

“Why don’t you visit with me until your mom wakes up? I got
some lemonade in the fridge.”

Gregory shrugged. He wasn’t sure if this was okay.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll call your house and leave a
message on the message machine to let her know where you are so when she wakes
up she can come get you, ok?”

Gregory shrugged again, “OK.”

Brian saw three bodies in the parking lot as he backed into
his house. What had happened? Maybe Mark
was right to grab the man in white. They needed more information.
He felt a
tug at his leg.

“Call my mom,” Gregory said, “And then can I have some
lemonade?”

Down in the basement Mark had found a fold out chair and
some rope in the laundry room. He had attached the man in white to the chair.

The rest of the basement was finished as a TV room with nice
carpeting and cozy seating.

What Mark had planned was too messy for that room. The bare
concrete of the laundry room would be much better.

On TV or the movies they always woke someone up after
knocking them out with smelling salts. He didn’t have any smelling salts, so
Mark thought he’d try something else he saw on TV once.

He pulled the white hood off the man and unzipped the top of
the white suit. The man was Caucasian, mid-thirties, and muscular with a square
jaw that Mark’s nephew would have called a Batman chin. He used the man’s knife
to cut open the t-shirt he was wearing exposing his bare chest and abdomen.

Mark went over to the wash basin next to the washing machine
and soaked a rag with water from the tap.

He wrung it out over the skin of the man’s chest and then
threw the rag back into the basin. Drying his hands on his jeans, Mark went out
to the TV room and unplugged one of the small table lamps from the wall.

Using the man’s knife again he cut the lamp cord near the
base of the lamp and shred off most of the wire coating from that end. Two
exposed ends of wire now protruded from the end of the cord.

He returned to the laundry room and stood for a moment
staring down at the unconscious man. He plugged the cord into a nearby outlet
in the wall.

Mark took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and remembered
his daughter. “Daddy look how high I am!”

He opened his eyes and pressed the exposed ends of the cord
against the man’s chest.

The man’s eyes shot open, his eyes rolled into the back of
his head and his entire body shook forcefully.

Mark jumped back unprepared for this reaction.

He hadn’t really known what to expect.

The man, however, was awake again. He remained tied to the
chair, his breathing was shallow, and he was shaking ever so slightly.

“You’re going to tell me what’s going on.” Mark said.

The door to the laundry room burst open. Brian stood in the
doorway.

“What the hell was that?”

With the cord in one hand and the knife in the other Marked
replied, “Wake up call.”

Brian looked at the man in the chair and then back at Mark.

“Just get your answers quick. I don’t think we should stay
here too long. They’ll be looking for him.”

Mark nodded and turned back to the man in the chair who was
smiling.

Mark heard the door close behind him.

“What have you got to be smiling about?”

“The old man is right. They’ll find me and kill you both.”

Mark ignored him.

“What happened out there?”

The man remained silent.

“Where are you from? Russia?”

The man smirked.

“Mother Russia,” he spoke with a thick Russian accent and
then tilting his head to his left, “Or maybe sweet home Alabama,” he said in a
Southern drawl. Then the man tilted his head back to the right and said
something in Chinese. Mark only caught the words Hong Kong.

Marked slashed the man across the cheek with the knife to
silence him.

“You bastards killed my daughter, along with god knows how
many more of the people in this city. You’re gonna tell me why she deserved to
die!”

Mark brought the knife down into the man’s knee. He felt it
slip behind the knee cap. The man screamed in pain and tried to squirm as Mark
held the knife in place.

“Wait, wait!” the man began to shout with no discernable
accent.

Marked pulled the knife out.

The man seemed to be trying to compose himself and then spit
a large glob of saliva on the front of Mark’s shirt.

Mark jabbed him in the chest with the wire again. The chair
legs rattled noisily against the concrete floor.

He held the wire against the man until he smelled burning
skin.

The man’s head hung limply over his chest but he was still
breathing. Mark lifted the man’s head up and looked him in the face. His eyes
were blood shot and rolled around in their sockets like he was dizzy.

He was mumbling something over and over again. Mark couldn’t
make it out.

“Speak up,” he told the bloody, sweat-ridden man.

The man continued to mumble. Mark leaned in closer and
finally heard the words. He stood up straight in shock at what he’d been told.

“What do mean she’s not dead?!”

The man continued to repeat his words. Mark slapped him
across the face and then grabbed his face by the chin looking at him eye to
eye.

“What do mean my daughter’s not dead?”

A moment of silence and then the man spoke, his words
slurring and heavy.

“Screw it. I’m gonna bleed out and die anyway. And you Walkers
are dead too. No way you avoid us all. Might as well tell you. Just kill me
quick, k?”

“Fine. Whatever – just tell me what’s going on.”

“Look. I don’t know the whole thing ok? Just what my mission
was and maybe a little more.”

“Spit it out,” Mark demanded.

“They ain’t all dead. The Gust just knocks ‘em out. Works on
like 98% of the population.”

“Wait,” Mark interrupted, “the Gust?”

“A nerve gas. They call it The Gust. The bomb goes off and
it feels like a gust of wind and everything in 10 square kilometres drops down
like marionettes with no strings.”

“You said 98%. What happens to the other 2%?”

“They’re what we call Walkers. Natural immunity. They
generally freak out and wanna shout to high heaven about what’s going on. Can’t
have that. So we S.O.S. them.”

Mark stared silently at the man, his raised eyebrow
questioning the acronym.

“S.O.S.”, the man repeated, “Shoot on sight.”

“How are you not
affected?”  Mark continued.

“Pills,” he answered motioning to a side pocket in his
pants, “Gotta take ‘em every two hours until the Gust dissipates.

Mark reached into the pocket and pulled out a silver sheet
of pills. They looked like DayQuil capsules. He slid them into his pocket.

“Why would they do this?”

“Dunno man –“

Mark raised the wire to the man’s chest.

“Hey, hey, hey! I said I don’t know all of it! I said I know
what I know. That’s it! I was left to clear some roads for once they’d
collected the Sleepers, man! I swear that’s it!”

Mark lowered the wire.

“Where are they taking them?”

“I dunno –“

Mark’s arm only needed to flinch.

“The airport, the airport! That’s it! I don’t know where
they were flying to or nothing!”

“You know that they’re flying somewhere though.”

“Yeah…”

“How many planes?” Mark demanded.

Speaking very cautiously “Man I told you—“

“How many planes?” louder this time.

“One. One. Just the Herc man, just the Herc!”

Mark turned to walk out of the laundry room and saw Brian in
the doorway. His eyes met Brian’s and then he stepped past him into the TV
room. Brian closed the door behind them.

“You’re going after her?”

“You still got his gun?”

Brian removed it from the under his belt at his lower back
and handed it to Mark.

“You going to kill him?”

“He’s dying anyway. Besides I think I’ll need the bullets.”

“So you’re just going to leave him here like that?”

Mark thought about it and then nodded at Brian. He walked
back into the laundry room.

Brian followed him, “Hey I didn’t mean—“

Mark used the butt end of the gun and slammed it into the
bloodied man’s temple. It worked on the first try this time. He was out like a
light.

“You better get the boy and you somewhere different. Seems
like they mean to search and clear out the whole area.

“We’ll manage. How’s your leg?”

The bullet had gone clean through and missed the bone and
major arteries. Brian bandaged him up while Gregory had fallen asleep in the
next room. Brian went upstairs telling Mark to give him a minute. He returned
with his arms full of dark coloured and clean clothing. Mark thanked him and
changed. He tucked the long sleeved black shirt into the black cargo pants. The
pants were a little big for him but the belt would hold them up fine, and the
big side pockets held the knife and gun pretty well.

The sun had just set as Mark left Brian’s house. He knew his
plan was guess work at best, but he had told Brian the truth earlier. His life
wasn’t worth anything without Elizabeth.

Mark made his way cautiously back to the white van. He
closed the rear doors and got in the driver’s seat. The keys were still in the
ignition. He started it up and immediately the radio chatter burst out into the
silent night. “Falcon swept A2 clean. 2 Walkers put to sleep.” And then again
as “52 angels on 3 clouds” were “en route to Big Bird”.

Mark put the van in drive and began his trip to the airport.

He stopped at the next stop sign and pulled the white mask
from one of his pants pockets. When he ran into the others he wanted to look
the part.

Two blocks later, he came to an intersection where two white
vans were turning onto the road from a side street. He went through the
intersection after them and fell into line behind them. Several minutes later
they came to a stop.

Mark could see the flashing lights of police cars up ahead
but not what was going on. The other two vans were obstructing his view. As
they sat there idling, another white van arrived behind him. His left foot
bounced his leg up and down as his nerves began to get to him. If they were to
discover him now, he’d be boxed in with no chance.

Finally they began to roll forward. As the other two vans
went through the police barrier and he approached it, Mark understood what was
going on.

They had blocked off the area. No traffic was coming in.
They must have similar setups right across the 10 kilometre radius.

Out on the road and moving again, Mark saw all sorts of
other cars on the road. He passed restaurants and saw people eating inside.
Everything was normal. Everything was just fine.

When they got to the airport they were directed through a
gated entrance and Mark realized they had been let right onto the Runway
Tarmac.

How many people would
needed to be involved to pull this off? Who were these people? So much for
increased security at the airport.

The vans were all directed by men in dark clothing holding
orange glow sticks to park in a row on the far side of the Hercules aircraft.
He watched the other drivers get out and head toward a hangar lit up on the
inside as bright as a stadium. None of them wore the white masks anymore.

Mark removed his mask and got out of the van. He walked
vaguely in the direction of the hangar but headed past the giant aircraft
trying to get a look inside.

“Hey!” a stern voice called out somewhere to his left.

Mark’s hand dropped to the pocket with the gun. He wondered
if he could draw it fast enough. He turned around slowly.

“Where the hell you think you’re going?”

A man in his late forties wearing a black and grey
camouflage patrol cap and dressed in a long-sleeve black shirt and black cargo
pants approached him at speed.

“No chow until we’re loaded. Doesn’t look like your chubby
ass needs anything anyway.”

“Yes sir.”

Over the angry man’s shoulder Mark could see others dressed
in similar dark attire opening the rear doors of the vans and he hurried to
join them.

They worked in pairs. None of them spoke to each other.

Body after body was carried by their arms and legs into the
aircraft and laid down on the floor atop a growing pile of human cargo. One
next to the other, pressed together like a package of hotdogs. It looked like
they were stocking a mass grave.

Body after body and Mark had still not seen his daughter. He
wondered if she’d been left in the playground all this time or worse.

Then a commotion arose as one of the men dropped the end of
the body he was carrying. The long blonde hair lay sprawled across the ground
as the girl’s legs remained in his partner’s grasp.

Mark bolted for the dropped girl. As he came closer he heard
the man holding her legs calling him an idiot. Telling him they couldn’t afford
to damage the Sleepers.

Mark decided to join in.

“Get outta the way, let somebody in there who can handle
Sleepers with the proper care.”

Mark scooped up Elizabeth under her arms and the man who’d
dropped her shoved him.

“Who the hell do you think –“

“You gonna make me drop her again?” Mark cut him off.

“Keep it movin’ men!” it was the voice of the angry man from
before.

“Forester. What a prick. I’ll see you in the hangar,” the clumsy man said threateningly to Mark.

Mark and his new partner carried Elizabeth’s body into the
aircraft and as they set it down Mark pulled the knife from his pant pocket.

“Hey.” He called for his partner’s attention.

The man looked up and Mark slid the knife under his chin and
pushed it up as far as it would go. With minimal blood the dead man fell limply
amongst the Sleepers and Mark rolled a couple on top of him.

He wiped the knife off on his pant leg and hid deeper in the
plane behind some steel crates. With so many men heading back and forth from
the plane, he and his dead partner’s absence went unnoticed.

He heard one pair drop a body with a grunt and a sigh.

“That’s the last of them.”

“Bout friggin time. Glover’s probably already scarfed all
the decent grub.”

“Screw that. I just need a shower.”

Their voices faded away as they exited the aircraft and
walked away into the night. There was a small clicking sound and then the whine
and motor roar of the rear doors beginning to close.

Mark knew he had to move fast. He peered out from behind the
crates and quickly realized he’d been left alone with the Sleepers. He could
still see Elizabeth’s blonde hair and pink outfit beneath the body of an over
weight teenage boy.

Mark pushed the boy aside and pulled his daughter into his
arms. The doors were halfway up and he could see the team of Sleeper-hauling
men had nearly made it to the hangar. Trailing closely behind them was
Forester, recognizable from this distance because of his hat.

Holding his daughter in front of him, Mark rolled off the
edge of the closing door, able to cushion most of the impact of the fall by
landing on his side. The wind knocked out of him from the fall, he desperately
fought to get to his feet and out of the middle of the runway.

He carried Elizabeth in his arms to the same van he had
arrived in. He placed her in the rear of the van and then got in the driver’s
seat. He rolled down the window and looked back at the hangar. Full of men
eating and laughing as if they’d all just spent the day at regular jobs. Mark
squinted into the night scanning the dark tarmac for any other personnel. He
saw none.

The van’s engine came to life and he kept the lights off
until they were a good distance from the Hercules and the hangar.

He approached the gate they had entered and was met by a
surprised looking guard. Mark rolled down the driver’s side window as the
guard’s silent hand signal requested.

“I thought the vans weren’t leaving until the morning.” The
guard said.

“Right. Well, I’ll be back. Forester sent me out for a
couple more items. All I want is a shower. What a prick.”

The guard smirked.

“You got that right,” he said.

The guard moved away from the van and activated the gate.

Mark drove out of the airport, got onto the highway and just
kept going. It dawned on him quickly enough though that they couldn’t stay in
the van. It was going to be a bright white target very soon.

He saw a Motel advertised for the next exit, so he turned
off there. He parked the van in the parking lot of a car repair shop. Leaving
Elizabeth in the back of the van, Mark crossed the street to the Motel. In the
lobby he spotted an ATM machine and withdrew a few hundred dollars. He secured
a room for the night under a false name and paid cash.

There were a total of 36 rooms all of them entered directly
from the parking lot. Making sure there were no cars coming from either
direction, Mark managed to carry Elizabeth from across the street and into the
Motel room unnoticed.

Mark laid her gently on the bed. He left the lights in the
room off, not wanting to draw any attention. So when he went into the bathroom
he fumbled a while to find the light switch. A plastic cup sat wrapped in paper
on the edge of the sink. Mark tore the paper away and filled the cup with
water. He reached into his pocket and removed the silver sheet of capsules. He
pushed two of them out of their packaging and pulled them open, pouring their
contents into the glass of water.

He returned to the dark room and hoped that this would even
work.

Mark sat next to his daughter’s limp body and lifted her
head slightly. He brought the cup to her mouth and poured the medicated water past
her lips. He did it too quickly at first and some dribbled out the sides of her
mouth, but he slowed down and most of it seemed to make its way down.

Then he waited. And waited. He felt for a pulse.

Tears formed and fell from his eyes.

“Please Noodle. Please. Baby, come on. Please wake up.
Please Noodle…”

Mark cried himself to sleep that night his hand atop his
daughter’s breathless chest.

The light shot in from a crack in the curtain. The sun. It
was morning. He sat bolt upright and looked down at Elizabeth.

“You make funny sounds when you sleep daddy.”

“Elizabeth!” Mark grabbed his little girl into his arms and
hugged her until she made him stop.

“Daddy stop! I can’t move!”

She wriggled out of his arms as he loosened his grip.

“Sorry Noodle. Just missed you so much.”

“We were just sleeping silly.”

“Yeah. I suppose you’re right.”

Mark called for a taxi from the room phone and then got both
of them washed up.

“We’re going on a trip,” he told Elizabeth.

“Where?” she asked.

“It’s a secret,” truth was he didn’t even know. He’d figure
it out once they got to the bus station.

The taxi arrived and they got in. Mark gave the driver their
destination and they pulled out onto the road.

Elizabeth pulled on her father’s shirt sleeve and he looked
down at his daughter’s smiling face and knew that they’d be alright.

“I love trips daddy. You know why?”

“Why’s that sweetie?”

“They’re always an adventure.”

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