“Another restless night,” I say under my breath, followed by a long and frustrated sigh. “Why can’t I just fall asleep?”
Time passes slowly as I lie awake in bed, looking at the ceiling through the darkness of my room. Maybe an hour goes by … maybe two. I refuse to look at the clock because what feels like hours may have only been ten minutes; that would make me feel even more frustrated.
The images from the battle refuse to leave me, returning at times when I least expect them. Everything happened so fast that night; I’m surprised I manage to remember so much detail. My mind operated like a camera: taking snapshots of what was going on. Like my cameras, I wish I could remove the film and throw them away. Never getting the images developed. Never having to look at them again. But that’s not the case. I can’t do that. Those images will remain with me for a very long time.
The Mogadorians were relentless. They were brutal, showing no mercy or guilt whatsoever. It doesn’t matter what got in their way, they were determined to kill everything that got in their path. Those weapons: guns and rifles that were almost bigger than me; swords that glow; and knives that could slice through anything. And what about those beast-like creatures? They were hideous! Running and chasing us all over the place. Hundreds of them everywhere. It was a miracle we even escaped at all! I keep saying to myself, it can’t be real! Those kinds of things don’t exist. But I know better than that. They are real. They do exist. And they are after John!
How is he supposed to fight these aliens, these creatures that are out to kill him? It’s amazing he’s managed to stay alive as long as he has. A whole entire alien species is after him, trying everything to kill him. Stopping at nothing to ensure that he’s … dead.
And to make matters worse, the FBI is out to get John—dead or alive. I know they won’t hesitate to kill him. A terrorist? A threat to National Security? Most Wanted List? The odds are against him. He’s running and hiding from the Mogadorians, the FBI, CIA, the police, and whoever else believes that he’s a threat.
These thoughts begin to smother me like a heavy blanket. I turn on my side in bed and grasp the other pillow tightly. Memories of John flash through my mind: our first meeting at school, the Halloween Festival, Thanksgiving dinner, our first kiss, and the kiss the day he left … twenty-five days ago. All of these memories are fresh in my mind as if they happened only yesterday.
I roll onto my back and face the ceiling in the darkness. I give in to curiosity, and I look over at the clock; it’s almost two in the morning, and sleep does not appear to be a viable option at this point. As I let out another long deep sigh, a very dark and unsettling suspicion sinks into me. My eyes stare widely at the ceiling in anticipation of some unknown feeling. My body tenses as if waiting for some oncoming impact. I try to shake it off, but it won’t lessen. Then, I hear the sound echoing down the hall outside my door.
My body instantly goes rigid and locks in place. My eyes dart toward the door … waiting … anticipating.
No! Please, no. Please don’t let it be him! The pillow drops from my grasp and onto the floor as the door bursts open.
“Sarah!” says Gloria, hurrying to my bedside. “It’s John!”
It wasn’t until I took in a huge gulp of air that I realized I was holding my breath.
I sit up in bed and in an instant, everything goes numb and quiet. I feel like I’m in daze. It feels like time has slowed down or come to complete stop. I see images of John, like photographs, passing before me. It’s like when someone is dying, they say they can see their life flash before their eyes. Only it’s not my life I see, but John’s life. His life with me. I see the times we’ve spent together. I see him before we became close.
Now the photographs change into rolls of negatives, pictures that haven’t been developed yet. I see John running from the aliens. I see him in battle. I see us together, holding each other, in a wide open plain.
Now these same images, the negatives, are darkening and turning black as if they’ve been overexposed to light. They fade to blackness until the images disappear completely … as if they never existed … or never will exist.
I quickly snap back to reality as if a pitcher of cold water was thrown on me. I’m suddenly hit with the awareness of what is about to happen. I’m still surrounded in darkness except for a small illumination of light coming from Gloria’s hand. She’s holding my phone. The sound I heard was the ringtone going off. From the quick melody, I knew it was a text message.
“Sarah! Did you hear me?” Gloria asks as she hands the phone to me. “It’s John. He’s here.” Empathy fills her eyes.
I take the phone and read the message: I promised I’d come back. U up?
I wish this could be one of those times I could just act without thinking, but I can’t. My emotions and my will are in a massive tug-of-war. And right now, my will to act is on the losing end. I can’t bring myself to do what I know I should do.
The words come out before I realize what I’m saying. “This might not be John,” I say. “It could be anyone.”
“Sarah, please,” Gloria replies calmly. “Who else is going to text you at this hour in the morning?”
I don’t know where the voice comes from, but I can clearly hear its words….
He’ll hate you.
He’ll never forgive you.
He’ll think you betrayed him.
“I don’t think I can go through with this,” I get out in a weak and strained voice.
Just then, another text comes in. It reads: I love you. I’m here.
My hands begin to quiver.
“Sarah,” Gloria says in almost a whisper, feeling the pressure and urgency of the moment. “You know it’s him. You need to reply. You need to meet him.”
“I know. I know,” I say, trying to take control of these emotions. I take a deep breath but I can’t seem to pull myself to reply back. I grip the phone in my hand but my fingers don’t want to move. By replying, I’ll be luring him into a trap.
He’ll hate you….
He’ll never forgive you….
He’ll think you betrayed him….
I know I have to do this. I know—
“Agent Ducei,” a voice booms from the doorway. Without looking up, I know immediately it’s Agent Hecht. “The teams are in place and waiting. Get her ready to go. Now!” He doesn’t wait for a response. He quickly disappears down the hallway. I think to myself, I really hate that guy.
My phone goes off again with a third text message. John must be getting impatient, wondering why I haven’t replied. This one reads: Bernie Kosar misses you.
My mouth forms a very small smile when reading this. I glance up at Gloria, who then looks from the phone to me with a quizzical look on her face. I turn on my bedside lamp and focus my attention on my phone.
I can do this!
I have to do this!
For John’s safety!
My fingers finally find the ability to move, and I reply back: Is it really you? You’re in Paradise?
As soon as I hit send, I look up at Gloria. She immediately recognizes the what-did-I-just-do look on my face. She firmly, but gently, grips both my shoulders and turns me to face her.
“Sarah,” she begins, “you know this is the only way to save him right now. They know he’s out there waiting for you. Once they catch sight of him, on Hecht’s order, they will not hesitate to shoot.”
I take in a deep breath and slowly let it out, subduing any further emotions from interfering.
She continues, “So the only way to save John’s life is to go out there and meet him. His life is in your hands. We’ll do everything we can to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, I promise. Sarah, this is…” she trails off, pauses a moment, and restarts with, “Sarah, right now, you are his only chance at staying alive.”
What she says sinks in: I am his only chance at staying alive. I can instantly feel the responsibility weighing down on me. Heavy. Like a ton of bricks. And then as I remember it, I say it under my breath, “Keep him alive … by any means necessary.”
My posture straightens, my breathing becomes controlled and steady, and my hands stop trembling. I know what I need to do.
My phone goes off with another message: I’m outside. Meet me at the playground in 5?
I immediately reply back: I’ll be there. 🙂
Gloria looks me right in the eye and in a reassuring tone says, “You’re doing the right thing, Sarah. You got this.”
We both stand up; Gloria gives me an encouraging nod and walks out of the bedroom and down the hall.
I hurry to the closet and change into a pair of dark jeans and a dark fleece jacket. I grab a black knitted hat off the dresser, put my phone in my jacket pocket, and head out the bedroom and down the hallway. When I enter the living room, Hecht shoots a glance at me with knitted brows and a suspicious look in his eyes. He seems to be assessing my choice of clothing: all black.
“Wait a minute,” he barks out. He looks around the room until he sees something; his eyes focus on the coat rack in the corner. He grabs the white winter hat hanging from it and tosses it at me. “Put this one on instead. That way we can still see you in the shadows. We need to see you at all times. We wouldn’t want to lose you out there, Miss Hart.” He says the last part with an impudent smug on his face.
He begins to say something else, but his radio beeps and hisses some static. Then a voice from the radio says, “The target is in sight. Five snipers are in place and awaiting your orders, sir.”
My breath catches in my throat at the thought of snipers aiming at John, ready to shoot. But with my new resolve, I suppress the anxiety, not letting it get the best of me.
Hecht beams his glaring eyes in my direction, picks up the radio, and answers back, “Copy that. Stand by for my orders.” As he lowers the radio, his eyes are still locked on me. He continues to wear the smug look on his face and says, “Remember Miss Hart, you do what you’re supposed to out there, and those snipers won’t be necessary.” He winks at me.
My skin crawls. I immediately look away.
I really hate this guy!
Before I head out the front door, I turn back and catch a glimpse of Gloria looking at me.
She mouths “you got this.”
I reply with a nod. Throwing my black hat on the table, I turn and head out the door. I put on the white winter hat and direct my steps to the playground.