Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Quinlan, dripping wet and shivering, paused at the magazine rack, but he wasn’t looking at the half-nude, three-headed picture of someone named Lady Gaga. Instead, he was looking beyond it, focusing between the torrential rain outside and the reflection of the teenage attendant taking cash from a customer. The register opened.
A blinding burst of white light lit up the interior of the gas station an instant before plunging it into darkness, while at the same moment, a loud snap and a deafening clap of thunder were followed by the popping of blown transformers and the screams of startled customers. Quinlan crouched and ran in the sudden darkness, silently passing people scrambling to get out. He paused at the head of an aisle, waiting for the last person to leave. Alone at last, he vaulted over the front counter and checked the cash register, smiling when he found it still open.
So he had timed it perfectly.
Quinlan stuffed the bills into a waiting Ziploc, sealed it, slipped it into the drenched pocket of his cargo shorts, and left the station by the opposite door through which the attendant had exited. By the time he had run three blocks in the downpour, sirens had sounded in the distance.
Thunder rumbled, jarring Morgan from a gun-slinging, bounty hunter novel. She set the worn book face-down beside the quilt she was laying on and craned her head around to look out the open northern window of the barn loft. Outside, the morning sky was darkened by an alarmingly close bank of ominous thunderheads. Morgan couldn’t even recall when the sun had disappeared because she had been so absorbed by the book.
Books were a welcome escape from the loneliness of summers at Finca—the family Ranch.
With a plaintive sigh, Morgan stood and slid the old Sno Cone receipt inside the book to mark her place before tucking it safely away with her quilt. She hurried to the loft ladder in the corner, intending to make a mad dash to the ranch house before the storm hit, but just as she reached the ladder and turned to make her way down, the rain struck. It pounded with shrill fury on the tin roof. Lightning struck, followed by an almost instantaneous crash of thunder.
Great, Morgan thought. I’m going to get totally soaked.
But before she could decide whether or not she should wait out the storm in the dry, warm barn, one of the doors blew open.
Morgan crouched and bit back a scream.
Lightning flashed again, briefly revealing someone’s shadow in the rectangle of light in front of the doorway.
The fine hairs at the back of Morgan’s neck stood on end. Instinctually, she lowered herself onto the hay. Her chest worked and worked, lungs striving for oxygen, but it felt like she couldn’t breathe.
A young man, dressed in cargo shorts and a dark t-shirt stepped inside. He was absolutely drenched, dark hair wild and dripping past his eyes, water running down his nose and falling from his chin.
Oh, my God. Morgan started shaking, eyes desperate to find a weapon, but there was only hay. Her hand fumbled at her pocket before she realized she hadn’t even brought her cell phone with her. She was defenseless.
He swung the door shut and when he turned, Morgan caught a brief glimpse of a pale face drawn with exhaustion.
Terrified he would see her, since the weak light from the window was on her head and shoulders, Morgan took a risk and, hoping the storm would mask the sound of her movements, she rolled onto her side into the shadows with her back against the wall.
He didn’t notice and Morgan slowly let out a trembling breath. He took a few steps forward and sat down heavily on the floor, slipping a medium-sized black backpack from his shoulders. Then he lay down on the floor, his chest rising and falling in rapid movements, one hand draped over his stomach, the other at his side. He didn’t move for a while.
Morgan felt herself on the verge of hyperventilating. Oh God. Images of a future she might never have flashed behind her eyes: a college dorm room, a passionate kiss, a wedding. Morgan shut her eyes hard, and somehow kept herself from panicking. Or worse—crying. Vaguely, she noticed the rain begin to lessen until only a soft metallic pattering remained. She opened her eyes, watching the resting intruder and especially that backpack. Just above and beyond her head was the open window that was spitting rain into her hair. Maybe she could jump. It was probably only a ten-foot drop.
Suddenly, the boy moved, and Morgan froze. He pushed himself up, roughly running his hands through his hair and flinging shiny drops of water everywhere. He began working off his shoes, putting them aside, then pulled off both socks, wringing the water from them before setting them lengthwise beside the shoes. He bent his head down and began to rub both of his feet. Even with the rain still thrumming, Morgan could make out small pops and cracks.
After he finished rubbing his feet, which looked extremely white in the semidarkness, he grabbed the backpack, pulling out a medium-sized Ziploc bag. He opened it and out came a power bar, which he ate in three quick bites. Then from the same Ziploc, he brought out a fat white pill bottle. He unscrewed the lid, shook the rattling bottle over a hand, and then swung his hand to his mouth, leaving his head up as he swallowed.
What is he doing? Morgan thought, internal fear and resentment warring with a sudden irrational curiosity.
The boy opened the backpack again and reached inside, yanking out several more Ziplocs before producing a large square object that was wrapped in plastic. He uncovered it to reveal what looked like an old-fashioned radio. There was a handle on top, and a ribbed yellow center above evenly spaced vertical slits. He fiddled with two knobs on it before setting it between himself and his socks and shoes. He leaned towards the square object and at that angle Morgan could make out more of his features. His face was dominated by slightly hollowed cheeks that gave way to rounded cheekbones and thick eyebrows that hung like thunderclouds over gleaming eyes.
Morgan thought it was the most terrifying face she’d ever seen.
He suddenly stood, bent over and peeled off his saturated shirt. Shocked, Morgan continued to watch, eyes wide. His skin was incredibly pale. He was leanly muscled, but looked thin, like a runner or swimmer. He wrung his shirt out, laying it next to his socks.
When his fingers went to the button of his drenched, low-lying shorts, Morgan blurted, ”Don’t move!” and immediately regretted it when those gleaming eyes found hers in the semi-darkness.
Oh, my God, my modesty’s going to get me killed!
A hand was instinctually outstretched in front of her, and in a moment of adrenaline-fueled genius, she curled her fingers and said, “I have my cell phone,” pretending it was in her hand and willing her lips to stop shaking. “My dad’s less than a minute away with a shotgun. Now slowly put your hands up where I can see them.”