A/N: Hello there. Sorry for the wait here, but it's been a busy period of my life with school and stuff. In this chapter, I basically slap you around the face with gloves of foreshadowing, even if some of it doesn't make sense until much much later on. And then there's Mark, the poor kid. Although, I'm pretty sure you all will like what I've got planned for his character.
Also I picked a kind of odd day to write for this story again: today's my fifteenth birthday (I technically reach my exact moment of birth in about an hour from now) which is quite odd. Now excuse me whilst I hide in a hole and prepare myself for the poof. XD
247 Hours 46 Minutes
Ethan looked out over the bridge at the highway below and saw even more terrifying horror. The large, busy road below them was normally full of vehicles rushing by. Now, it was silent. Any vehicle that was on the road when the drivers vanished had crashed: strange piles of cars in the middle of the road were visible. Looking further ahead still, Ethan noticed a bus that had rolled down the hill, crashing into the grocery store at the bottom. He didn't want to think about how many of them probably contained children in them. Children that were most likely very much dead.
Behind him were Chris and May, both of them changed out of their school uniforms, and into regular clothing; May wore a pale green t-shirt and a pair of white shorts, whilst Chris wore a red checked button up shirt with jeans: Ethan and his friends weren't really for following fashion trends. Ebony and Raoul had left them when they went to Chris' house; Raoul's two year old sister was at the day care centre in the east side of Suffeld, and she was too young to be left alone.
It would be like this everywhere: Suffeld was a large place, and as a result was full of day cares, pre-schools, and primary schools. All of them full of kids as young as a few months old. Something had to be done about it. Ethan looked down at the road where the bus had plummeted to its doom, and noticed that the ground was littered with items, most likely from a bag. At first glance he assumed it to be nothing more than some adult who vanished, leaving their bag behind. But he then noticed a text book, GCSE French higher level, on the road: he had recognised it by the bright yellow colour, and that he had been carrying a bunch of them across the language hallway at school earlier this morning. Next to it was a copy of a novel that Ethan had been reading this morning at home as well; it was a bizarre coincidence. The book was open to some page, but that wasn't what bothered Ethan. What bothered him was that blood covered the two books. Whoever owned those items had been in the bus when the adults vanished, and under fifteen. Probably around Ethan's age. And judging from the impact at the bottom of the hill, their body was in the bus: there was no way anyone could have survived that. A chill struck Ethan, and he looked away, focusing on Chris, who was looking in the same direction as Ethan.
"Do you think..." Chris began, but his voice trailed off.
"I really hope not," Ethan replied, keeping his voice as steady as possible. "There might not be anyone there anyway."
"What about the blood?" Chris' point made Ethan freeze. They both remained silent for a few minutes afterwards, looking solemnly at each other.
May came running down the bridge, her eyes wide; Ethan hadn't even noticed that she had left.
"Hey guys!" she said. "You've got to see this!"
"What is it?" Chris asked her.
"It's the railing on the bridge," she said. "It's been broken." May looked at the two of them, before running back down the bridge. "Come on!"
"We'd better go see," Ethan said. Chris nodded, and they ran down the bridge after May, stopping once they caught up to her.
"See?" May panted, pointing at the metal bars. "Broken." The two boys looked over at it, and stopped still. Ethan felt a chill again. The way that they had been smashed through would have matched a bus.
"So that explains the blood on the road," Chris said coolly.
"What?" May asked.
"Down the hill," Ethan said. "There's a crashed bus, and," he took a deep breath, "and there's blood. On the road." For some reason, he found himself getting choked up. "Whoever was on there's most likely dead."
The words sent them all into a solemn state of silence.
"No..." May said. "This isn't right; it can't be happening."
"But it is," Ethan said. "It's only been a couple of hours, but we've already seen our first body." He let out a sigh, his voice catching. "And I doubt it'll be the last."
"What do you mean?" Chris asked. "You think there'll be more people dying?"
"I know it," Ethan snapped. He felt himself shaking, and gripped onto the railing to stop himself from bursting out into a fit of sobs. "What's happening here? Why us?"
"I don't know," May replied. "From what I remember about this thing in California, it all started because of an alien virus absorbing a dead man's DNA, or something equally science-fiction-like."
"Whatever caused this doesn't matter though," Chris suggested. "What's important here is keeping everything under control, and making sure we don't descend into chaos."
"And something else makes me think that what's happening here isn't exactly like California either," Ethan said.
"Well, think about it," he said. "As soon as that dome appeared, the kids in there started getting weird powers. And so far I haven't seen any indication of that anywhere."
"You're right," May said. "Maybe that means that if there is a barrier, it can be broken through. In which case, staying together at the mall will help the adults find us." The boys both gave nods of agreement, and the three of them took off down the road, heading into the middle of Suffeld.
The bridge sloped downwards, joining up to another section of the main road, which was far less chaotic: it was apparent that there was a traffic jam here when the adults vanished. Every engine was still on, and they collectively formed a chorus of low vibrations and exhaust fumes. As the three of them weaved through the traffic, following the signs to the mall, Ethan began to wonder about the entire situation. All across Suffeld everyone over fifteen had vanished all at once without warning, leaving the kids behind. Most likely trapped. Maybe permanently. Nobody knew anything about how it had happened, which meant that the largest priority right now was remaining calm; enough panic could level the city. And another part of Ethan felt something different: a deep, underlying sense of terror. It was so subtle, that he wasn't even sure it was there. Like when an insect flew around, and he could barely see it out of the corner of his eye. Or like when he was listening to music on his headphones, and sometimes thought he heard someone saying something, only for silence when he paused the music. Like that. And almost seemed to be dropping hints into Ethan's subconscious, like a warning that something really bad was on its way in the near future. Something he would regret ignoring. But for now, at least, there wasn't any trouble.
Ethan looked up, and barely avoided walking into a street lamp.
"You okay?" Chris asked.
"Fine," Ethan replied. "Just spaced out for a moment, is all."
"Okay then," Chris said. "But try not to do that, okay?" Ethan nodded in response, and continued to follow Chris and May as they walked down a flight of stairs: they were taking the underground tunnel system to the mall. Ethan had always hated going down there: the maintenance was awful, and several times complete power failure had occurred whilst he was down. As far as he was concerned, this system was Suffeld's way of trying to appeal to the tourism industry; despite being such a large city, Suffeld was so far out of the way that not many people tended to find it that easily; it was practically in the middle of nowhere, residing on the borders between the three counties of Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. That was one of the things that drew people in, but not enough to make Suffeld as popular as other cities of similar sizes. Ethan guessed that if Suffeld was just a little closer to the coast, then it would be flooded with tourists. And then perhaps they would be able to afford a better underground tunnel system.
As they walked further down the staircase, Ethan immediately began to notice the change in scenery. The bright concrete steps became dull and cracked. Clean walls were flooded with graffiti. The unusual warm atmosphere outside turned cold and damp. A series of low hanging light bulbs lined the cracked roof. Half of them didn't work. The other half flickered rapidly. They reached the bottom of the stairs, and concrete slabs became cream-coloured tiles. Litter was strewn across the floor. Torn up posters and fliers were scattered about, the remains of some still hanging onto the wall. And most notably, nobody was down there.
"This place always gives me the creeps on a good day," May said, folding her arms. "Never mind now. It's like we've stepped into another world."
"And we haven't already?" Chris quipped dryly. "Hey, which way is it to the mall?"
"I know," Ethan said. "We just follow the tunnel on the right. It opens up just outside the car park. It'll take us about five minutes to get there." Nervously, Ethan took a step forward, and began to walk down the tunnel, Chris and May just behind him. The flickering light cast deep shadows, and Ethan felt a stab of paranoia. Like something was down here that he should be noticing, yet wasn't. He glanced ahead of him, and only saw a darkened portion of the tunnel: the lights there had completely died.
Suddenly, movement. Ethan froze, and watched as a figure seemingly materialised from thin air, silhouetted by the darkness. It turned to face him, and started running out of the shadows. A single hand became visible in the light, and then the figure vanished. Ethan looked back at Chris and May, who were discussing something. Judging by how they were, they hadn't seen the figure. Just the fear getting to you, Ethan, he thought to himself as they walked through the shadows, becoming aware of the sound of their footsteps echoing around the empty space. And then, Ethan realised how quickly they had become adjusted to this situation. No, adjusted would be the wrong term: they had merely occupied themselves with other things to distract them from the true horror. That would sink in later.
"Hey," May said. "I see the end of the tunnel!" Ethan looked ahead, and sighed in relief. There, just a little further ahead, was the staircase.
"Told you it wasn't that far," Ethan said to her, and increased his walking pace as they drew closer. Thank god he still remembered it: it had been two years since Ethan had been down here with his mother, and he barely remembered it; back when they first entered the tunnel, he was almost certain that the way to the mall was the tunnel to the left. The absence of signs didn't help either; if Ethan recalled correctly, the left tunnel brought them to the train station on the other side of the city. And if that happened, they wouldn't be out of this place until night. And that option was probably best avoided: any more fear would be unnecessary.
The afternoon sunlight was blinding as the three of them resurfaced. The first Ethan focused on was a car to the right of him; a green Ford. Quite old, too, by the looks of it. The front doors of the car were wide open as well. The owner of this vehicle had vanished as they were getting in. Ethan vaguely recalled seeing this car somewhere before; probably a parent of someone at school. No way of telling if their kid was in here, or out there. If the adults and over fifteens had gone just outside of the barrier when they vanished. Which was where they would most likely be if this followed a similar pattern to California. And if it did... Ethan suppressed a sob of terror. The kids in California had been trapped for nearly a year. A year without adults and older kids. A year with dwindling resources. A year with kids going crazy. This all hit Ethan at once, and he realised the gravity of the situation for the first time.
"No..." he said out loud, not meaning to.
"What?" Chris said, a worried expression on his face. "Ethan, are you okay?"
"No, I'm not okay, Chris," Ethan snapped back, his voice breaking. "Everyone fifteen and up is just gone, and we're most likely sealed in some sort of barrier for god knows how long, and you expect me to be okay?!" Tears were spilling from his eyes. "I just... I want my parents."
"Oh my god..." May said. "I knew that you were keeping it together, but I didn't know that this was what you were holding back." She ran over to Ethan, and wrapped her arms around him, a few tears rolling down her own face as well. "I'm so sorry..."
Chris stood there, watching as May and Ethan released their anguish, choking back tears of his own, until he saw a mass of kids walking through the car park into the mall. He walked away from his two friends, and approached a second year girl with blonde hair tied up in a braid.
"Hey, excuse me," he said. "What's going on?"
"A girl called Lynn said for us all to go to the mall," she replied. "She says she's got a plan for what to do now that all the adults have gone." She was projecting an air of confidence, but her voice caught slightly at the end of the sentence.
"Has she?" Chris said. "Thanks for letting me know; I'll go in there and speak with Lynn, since we're friends."
"Okay then," the girl said, walking away. "See you." Chris waved at her, and returned to Ethan and May, who had once again composed themselved, wiping the tears from their face until it looked like they had been sweating, not crying.
"So, any idea what the parade of kids is about?" May asked.
"Yeah," Chris said. "Lynn's got some plan to help us through this."
"We should probably see her," Ethan said. "Perhaps she does have some way to help us pull through."
Ethan began to walk ahead, immediately accompanied by Chris and May. They joined the sea of kids, and headed towards the entrance of the mall.
Mark had been sitting on his bed as his mother cleaned the room around him when the wall appeared. It had cut through his bedroom, coming between him and his mother. The pearly grey barrier had also cut him off from the door and half of the window, leaving him trapped in a tiny space with no way out.
Six hours later, and Mark was sat in the corner, his knees huddled up to his chest. His brown hair was a mess. His head was pounding from dehydration. And he found it was gradually becoming harder and harder to breathe. He learned about this in science last week: being trapped in a confined space with no way for oxygen to get in meant that eventually the air supply would run out, and he would suffocate. He breathed in deeply, but his lungs felt as if he had taken the lightest breath possible. He had no idea what had happened. The only thing he knew was that he was now trapped in the corner of his bedroom, and was running out of air. He had tried to get past the barrier, but touching it gave him a powerful electric shock, enough to probably electrocute somebody. Yet the pain vanished the second that he stopped touching it.
There was no way that this wall could be there. Impossible. Things didn't just appear out of thin air and doom someone to their death. But it wasn't like the wall wasn't really there; Mark had made sure of that. Several times. Another breath. He began to feel light-headed. More breathing. Dizzier.
"Oh, god," Mark whispered, his vision blurring. "Please, help me."
The young boy who had decided to stay home by faking the flu in order to avoid a history test, now trapped in the corner of his own bedroom, starving of oxygen, passed out.