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Chapter 5


Before I knew it, I was pounding the pavement at three o’clock in the morning looking for an old phone booth on the other side of town. My temples throbbed with adrenaline, and my eyes stung from sweat and the bright streetlights above.
This is totally crazy, I thought as the white houses flew by with every passing block. I didn’t even know why I was doing this. On one hand, I was racing against time to find the last person I wanted to see. But on the other, I was doing this for the boy I loved.
“What the hell!” I wailed, unable to contain my confusion.
As I moved toward the East side, I passed through the main street where all the CLOSED signs hung inside the stores. A few lights were on in some of them, but the sidewalks were mostly dark. After a few more blocks, the sights changed from glass windows to shabby houses. Some were overtaken by vines and weeds. Others were abandoned and in the early stages of toppling over completely. My lungs screamed for rest, but I told myself to hold out until I found what I was looking for.
Up ahead, I caught sight of a rusty kiosk on a shadowy corner. The obscure silhouette of boy in a simple patterned shirt and faded jeans was leaning against it with his head in his hands, looking like he was on the verge of a meltdown.
“Gary!” I shouted. He spun around, his face camouflaged by the darkness.
“Hey!” he called back, and started running toward me. I felt the slightest twinge of delight watching his body looming closer and I feared that I couldn’t hide the love-struck grin creeping into the corners of my lips. It was quickly erased when I saw the serious expression on his face.
“May’s not at home,” he gasped quickly in short uneven pants. “I went over to her house last night for dinner like I always do, but when I knocked on the door, her grandma told me that she just ran off.”
At this point, I was so breathless that I couldn’t talk. I doubled over and clutched my knees so I wouldn’t fall. I’d never run this hard in my life.
The neighborhood was frighteningly quiet. I looked around at the strange houses; most were dilapidated or falling apart. The ones that seemed in good condition were slowly peeling away at the sides and the rooftops. The sidewalks were broken and uneven, with small piles of debris scattered all over. I had never passed through this part of town before except in my parents’ cars on the way to the mall, and even then I was still afraid.
“She said that the tremor spooked her, or something,” Gary went on. “I thought she might’ve run off on the main street, but by the time I got out there, all the places were closed. She said something about having to run away because she was being chased or something. If she’s out there alone, she could get injured really easily, or start hyperventilating, or—”
“Whoa, slow down,” I interrupted, and stood up feeling wobbly. Not only was my enthusiasm diminished by his incessant banter about May, but now I knew that they’d been having dinner together every night. This is like a first date gone totally wrong.
“Let’s figure this out,” I said, “Where in Winston is there a lot of concrete?”
“Shelby, this is no time to brag about your family’s business,” Gary complained, wiping sweat off of his forehead.
“I mean it,” I insisted, and began pacing around thoughtfully. “Where in Winston is there a lot of, like, pavement?”
“I don’t know,” Gary whimpered and began to pace also, though less to think and more to settle his nerves. “Maybe Saint Elizabeth’s, or the mall, but they’re both closed right now …”
Suddenly, a vision of revolving drums and trucks flashed through my mind.
“The old cement factory!” I declared, and turned to my nervous companion. He had such a look of disbelief that I felt like punching him.
“What?” he bellowed. “There’s nothing out there. Why would she go there?”
“Look, do you want my help or not?” I asked, and was met with a blank stare. “Then trust me.” I grabbed his arm and dragged him onto the road.

– – –

From a distance, the abandoned factory looked like the towering skeleton of a dead dinosaur. Its tall rusting ducts, once proud symbols of industry and trade in northern Winston, were now ghostly remnants of the past. Gary and I watched the warm inviting streetlights fade as we diverted off the pristine highway and dashed up to the building entrance.
“She’s in here,” I assured him, looking up at the rickety structure. “I can feel it.”
We pushed hastily through the heavy metal door, and were plunged into darkness. The only things visible were a few twinkling stars outside of some high glass windows.
“Let’s split up,” Gary suggested. Before I could reject the idea, he had already moved away from me, feeling along the walls for balance and guidance. Sighing deeply, I began my search in the opposite direction.
“May?” echoed Gary’s voice sweetly. There were rustling noises as I heard him stepping over some paper bags. “May, where’dja go?”
“Ouch,” I exclaimed, bending over and hugging my shins. Something clattered loudly onto the floor, and I realized that I had just walked into a row of steel pipes. I was getting seriously annoyed at the situation.
“May!” I screamed bossily, rubbing the spot where I knocked into the pipes. “We know you’re in here, so just come out already!” Rising back up to my feet, I uttered under my breath, This is so stupid.
We continued tripping and stumbling through the random contents of the building, bumping into sandbags, equipment, and furniture, until a tiny cry rang out.
“She’s over here,” Gary called, and I inched cautiously toward the sound of his voice. There was a low click and a single light bulb came on at the far end of the room. Beneath it lay a fragile little girl crumpled up against the wall. She was breathing heavily, her face paler than usual and covered in sweat. Her thin body barely filled the petite-sized sweater and jeans she was wearing.
“You should know better than to run off like that,” Gary scolded softly. I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched him lift her up and cradle her in his arms, like a romantic scene in a fairy tale when the prince rescues his princess.
I placed my hands on my hips and snapped, “Okay, so she’s alive. Let’s go already.” I spun around and started heading back where we came. I felt both used and relieved at the same time. Why did I ever expect an intimate moment with Gary tonight? All he wanted was for me to find the very person I hated, and to bring her back to him. Well, I sure wasn’t going to stick around and embarrass myself again.
I showed him how to get here, and he can sure as hell get himself and his girlfriend back on his own, I thought.
“But I had to run away,” May squeaked weakly behind me. “If I didn’t, the chaser would’ve gotten me. It knows about my ‘condition’ and it’s not gonna stop until it gets me! It’s coming after all of us!”
Hearing that last sentence, I swung around and threw my palms up in the air.
“What the hell are you talking about, May?” I shrieked, my words echoing sharply throughout the factory. Both she and Gary looked at me, stunned. I marched furiously back toward them and glared at the little twit lying comfortably in Gary’s arms. “Don’t you dare drag me into your mess since I just wasted a whole night running around the entire town looking for you when I should’ve been at home resting for my chemistry test, which I have first thing in the morning! The least you can do right now is make some damn sense!” Although May was already terrified, I stamped my feet and thrashed my fists because words could no longer express how frustrated I was feeling.
“That’s enough, Shelby,” Gary interjected, setting his girlfriend down on her feet and leaning her gently against him. “You can’t blame her for being the way she is—”
“And you,” I said furiously, jabbing a finger at his chest. “Why are you always taking her side?”
“Well, maybe if you’d stop bullying her, I could leave her alone for once,” Gary countered, and slapped my hand away. I shrieked again and glared daggers at him. My cheeks were flushed with pent-up tension, and at this point, I was either going to hit him or kiss him.
“Will you two stop fighting?” May pleaded helplessly, clinging onto Gary’s shirt for dear life. “We have to go right now …”
“Whoever made you responsible for her problems?” I bellowed hysterically at Gary over May’s words.
“That’s none of your business; now get out of our way,” he demanded and tried to walk around me.
“Our way?” I mused, blocking him at every turn with my arms. “If it weren’t for me, she probably wouldn’t be alive right now!”
“You’ve done your part, okay? Now just let it go.”
“My part? Who the hell do you think you are, using me like that?”
“Why are you always such a bitch?”
“Oh yeah? So now we’re back to hating each other?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, damn you, Gary!”
“Damn you, too!”
BANG came a force from beneath, and all three of us were knocked off our feet. The building shook mercilessly, and our only light source swung wildly in all directions. The windows shattered and rained down on us in a thousand shiny shards. There was a brief pause in which I screamed, “What’s going on?” then a loud crackle like thunder split the air. The ground trembled and, right in the middle of the room, half shrouded in darkness, the concrete floor began to crack and roar.
I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, watching the tiny fracture elongate and turn into a long jagged crevasse snaking its way sinisterly across the floor right in my direction. I was hypnotized by its speed and persistence, and the possibility that whatever lay underneath it had come to kill me.
Is this it? I thought, Is this how I’m going to die?
But before I could find out the answers, I was jerked onto my feet and dragged out of the door into the open air.
Outside, Gary, May, and I collapsed onto the concrete driveway and gazed feebly at the building folding into itself, its towering ducts toppling slowly onto the metal roof, causing it to crumble under the weight. The surrounding pipes exploded from all the swift pressure, bursting in all directions like mini supernovas. The whole structure came down in one giant heap of dust, and settled just as quickly as it was destroyed.
“That,” May whispered, “is the chaser,” … and she fainted.

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Vivian Hwang

Flushing, USA

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