Traveling Story - Season 1- Episode 3

 

What is the Traveling Story?

 

5 Authors. 5 Days. 1 Story.

 

Each season of The Traveling Story will feature 5 well-known authors collaborating on one original, kick-ass story, with each author writing one of five episodes.

 

The full story will be revealed over the course of a week, with each episode appearing on the blog of the author who wrote it.

 

How Does it Work? 

 

There are one three rules for The Traveling Story: 

 

1) No brainstorming, outlining, or discussion of plot ahead of time. The first author writes the first episode of ANY kind of story they want and the next author picks up where that episode leaves off, taking it WHEREVER they want to go! The last author ends the story however they see fit!

 

2) An author cannot make changes to any previous episode. Each author has total creative control over their OWN episode only, but it has to continue where the last episode leaves off.

 

3) HAVE FUN! As you’ll see from the awesome story that came out of this, we don’t take ourselves too seriously! The Traveling Story is meant to be fun for the writers but especially for the readers!

 

Season 1 Authors/Schedule:

Episode 1 - July 15 - Jessica Brody

Episode 2 – July 16 - Jessica Khoury

Episode 3 – July 17 -  Lish McBride

Episode 4 - July 18 – Gretchen McNeil

Episode 5 – July 19 – Emmy Laybourne

 

 

*Don’t forget to LIKE The Traveling Story on Facebook where we’ll be posting links to EVERY episode, so you never miss out on a piece of the story! There's also a pinterest board for The Traveling Story!

 

Episode 3

by Lish McBride

 

My iced latte was long gone, and the caffeine and the tension twisting in my stomach had me tapping the scarred wooden table like some sort of hyperactive woodpecker. I didn’t need to check my watch for the umpteenth time to know that he was late, just like I didn’t need to check my scrap of paper to reassure myself that I was in the right place at the right time.

I guess I couldn’t expect professionalism from the kind of person that picks Hilda Otterbum as a code name. What a terrific douche waffle. Way to make the new girl feel like a jerk. I bet he’s the kind of guy who prances around using a fake accent and a gallon of product just to make all the girls swoon. If this gig weren’t so important, I’d tell him to shove it. But I needed that box. My sister needed that box.

Maybe I missed him when I went to the bathroom? The gallon of coffee I’d consumed had been a wonderful mistake. I wish I had a friend to talk to. I miss the days where I could meet up with a few chums in a coffee place like this and chat for hours. But hey, life tip folks—after you tell everyone your little sister was abducted by aliens? No one really wants to talk to you anymore. Except messed-up secret government agencies and their bizarro agents who give you crappy aliases.

That’s it. I’m out of here. He was obviously not showing. I barreled out the door accidentally knocking into someone on the way. Before I could say sorry, he made a noise and mumbled what sounded like, “Go back to Chinatown” and my sorry quickly turned into, “I’m Japanese, you ass.” and then I shoved past him. I’ve never even been to Japan. I’m third generation. Though I have been to Chinatown.

 

I got about ten feet from the door when I stopped and realized that I didn’t know where I was going. I leaned against the wall and flipped my phone open, scanning my email in hope that there was a “Sorry I was late” message or something. Nothing. I shoved my phone back into my pocket.

The street was bustling. Off to my left some Korean tourists were about to be had over some cheap Rolex knock-offs. People flowed in all directions, leaving work to run to the subway or catch their bus. They all wanted to get home to their loved ones, their families. I felt a stab in my gut. Wouldn’t it be nice to go home to my family? Not anymore. Since my sister’s been gone, my mom barely talks and my dad just stays at work. At least the cat is the same.

I did my best to block out the noise so I could think, and it was pretty easy. I’d lived here most of my life, and you got used to the noise in New York. It was the smell that was giving me trouble. Perfumes and exhaust, the boiled meat smell from the hot dog vendor and then something else...something I recognized. Burnt rubber and the faint whiff of ozone. My head snapped up just as the world exploded.

I fell to the ground out of instinct, but my brain didn’t go into freak out mode like the rest of the crowd. Because I knew that sound, too. The sound of a portal being opened. Someone on this street had just teleported. I leaped up, almost having to claw my way through the rush of bodies to go back toward the sound.

I couldn’t tell who was missing, because it felt like everyone had run off at the same time. In fact the only two people not sprinting like gazelles from a rabid lion, were a pretty bookish-looking brunette, and a stern looking Arab boy in a keffiyeh. He grabbed the girl’s wrist and I saw that she was holding a small, silver box. My shiny, silver, box.

“Hey!” I yelled. They both turned toward me in a synchronized motion. He better not give that thing to the wrong girl. “I’m Hilda Otterbum! I’m Hilda Otterbum!” If there had been anyone left on the street not in a blind panic, I’m sure there would have been tittering.

They guy looked at me like I was crazy, but I could see recognition blossom on the girl’s face. I expected her to turn and bolt. The guy certainly looked like he wanted to. Instead she smiled in a “Oh good, you’re here” kind of way, which was weird, because I’d never seen her before.

The boy yanked on her arm, obviously trying to get her to move, so I grabbed onto her other wrist. “Don’t you dare,” I said, staring him down. He was cute in an angry “I want to lecture you” kind of way. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would pick Hilda Otterbum as a name—he seemed too serious, but hey, you never can tell. “You don’t get to hand that off just because you think she’s cute. I’m the contact, it’s mine.”

He blinked. The girl smiled and yanked her hands back. She handed me the box introducing herself as Lucy just as the boy lunged at my hand. It quickly devolved into a juvenile tug-o-war, with some eye-gouging and toe-stomping on my part, and some foul language and elbows on his. There was an ear-splitting whistle and we both froze and looked up.

Lucy had her hands on her hips but her lips were twitching. She was trying not to laugh. “Chill, Rasul, it’s hers. The guy who gave it to me was looking for Hilda.”

“And you just took it?” I asked. Funny, she didn’t look like a shady character. She looked like she’d let you borrow her collated math notes if you asked nicely.

She blushed. “He was hot. Like followed by an angelic choir, I just stepped out of a Nicholas Sparks movie, level of hot.”

I frowned. “So he had a terminal disease?” That’s what I think of whenever I hear that author’s name. I swear, he should just change all his titles to, “Someone’s got cancer!”

Lucy pursed her lips, thinking. “Okay, how about this—think Nicholas Hoult with David Tennant’s charm and Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice—”

I held up a hand. “I get it. Hormones won.”

Rasul turned on her, “You took the box and you didn’t even know what it did?” After that he seemed to run out of words because he was just angrily opening and closing his mouth like someone had hit mute.

Lucy glared at him. It was a good glare, but not one I could take seriously. She just seemed too decent. So the glare kind of came off like a glitter-coated laser beam of emotion. “I said he was hot.” She was smiling when she looked back at me. “Look, Hilda—”

“Cindy. Hilda was a stupid codename.” Maybe I shouldn’t have shared, but I was pissed off at the cloak-and-dagger aspect of this whole thing. It hadn’t worked very well, after all.

Lucy lit up. “I knew it!” She pulled me free of the stunned Rasul. “The box is yours, then.”

“No!” Rasul shouted, regaining his voice. “She can’t just take it—it can’t fall into the wrong hands. I need it. She might not even know what it does.”

Now it was mine turn to glare. “It’s an implementation device. Specifically one that will hold open a teleportation anomaly or portal for a preset amount of time.”

Rasul blinked in surprise, but Lucy just stared. I started to explain to her, but Rasul seemed to come back to himself and suggested we go somewhere else. He was right. We’d been there too long.

We walked a few blocks, Lucy carrying the box to reassure both of us, and Rasul completely cagey the whole time. His eyes were always moving and I was reminded of the way a security camera scans and pans. It made me feel strangely safe. I felt like, of the three of us, Rasul was the only one who knew what he was doing.

We ducked into a pizza place. It was full and loud with the post-work crowd, and I highly doubted anyone would be able to hear us or care. Lucy snagged a booth and we slid in, me on one side, Rasul next to Lucy. Before I could start in, Rasul held up his hand, mimicking my imperial gesture from earlier. It looked better when I did it.

 “We order first. That way our cover is kept, and we don’t have to worry about the waitress interrupting us.”

“Plus I’m hungry,” Lucy said. Ah, a girl after my own heart.

“Me, too. And before you say we don’t have time to eat, Rasul, I say we make time. Whatever happens after this, we’re going to need the fuel.”

The waitress came and went and Rasul made us all order water because he said that we were obviously already over caffeinated. That might have been because I was bouncing in my seat, but really, I don’t think there is such a thing as too much caffeine. My mom disagreed. Something about being able to overdose on it, or stunting my growth, or some such nonsense. I hadn't been listening at the time. I had been too busy staring at the coffee maker.

“How did you know what I was going to say earlier?” Rasul asked. “And what is this “we” business?”

I shrugged. I’ve always been good at reading people. “I just know. I’m good with body language. And I say we, because clearly you’re not going to let us just run off with the box, and I can’t let that box out of my sight, and Lucy...” I didn’t know how to explain it, but somehow I just knew she was in.

“All I was going to do tonight was go home and work on my English paper and then watch Doctor Who. This sounds like more fun.”

Rasul goggled at us like we had lobsters growing out of our hair. “This isn’t fun! The fate of the world—”

“You can have fun while saving the world,” Lucy said, playing with her straw. I liked her. I bet she wouldn’t think my sister being abducted by aliens was weird. I decided to take a chance and lay everything all out on the table.

I told them about my sister, my funny and sweet thirteen-year-old sister, and how we’d gone to the park so she could sketch some plants and things for art class. I’d taken my camera so I could take a few shots as well.

One minute, everything was normal. Lani had been annoyed with me for teasing her about something stupid. I don’t even remember what, and then there was this sound, as if someone was ripping apart the world. It made my ears ring. Silence except for that deafening ringing became my soundtrack for a second, and I could see people screaming and running away, but I couldn’t move. My feet were frozen to the ground. So I was the only one who saw the slight waver to the air right by my sister.

I stood there, slack-jawed, as something appeared out of thin air. Creatures. I had no other name for them. Humanoid, but scaly. Eyes shining in the low light of the overcast day, like a cat or an alligator at night when you hit their eyes with a flashlight beam. An overpowering smell of burnt rubber and ozone made my eyes water. The creatures bared their teeth at me and those were far from human. Jagged and razor sharp, like sharks’ teeth.

The sound clicked back on just in time to hear my sister scream. The creature grabbed her around the waist, and stepped back. There was another shocking boom and then it was just me in the park. Alone.

It was a few minutes until I could hear myself screaming. But it didn’t do a damn bit of good. Lani was gone.

 

Lucy patted my hand affectionately right before the waitress descended with our fully loaded pizza. Aw, greasy cheese and oily pepperoni—you know how to soothe a girl’s heart.

“So then what?” Lucy asked, serving herself up a slice.

“Everyone thought I was crazy. I even started to wonder myself. But then the Order contacted me. Set up this meeting. I was supposed to trade that shiny thing for my sister. Simple.”

Rasul made a sound of disgust, either at me or the pizza, I couldn’t tell. Probably both. “They were sending you out like bait. Nothing more than cannon fodder.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, dousing my pizza in red pepper flakes.

Rasul popped a piece a green pepper into his mouth. “You know what the box is for, but you don’t really get what it’s for.”

“One more time, but this time, make sense,” I said.

Rasul paused. I could tell he was conflicted. He wasn’t sure how much he should say or what he should tell us. But then Lucy turned those big baby blues on him and pushed up her glasses with one knuckle to avoid getting them greasy, and I could see him melt. Ha. He may have made fun of Lucy for falling for Douchewaffle Dreamypants earlier, but clearly she wasn’t the only one losing the hormone battle.

 He sighed. There was a lot in that sigh. It was a defeated sound. “The problem with opening a portal is it’s disruptive—that’s why there’s such a big boom. They’re also unstable. When one opens, it’s viable for a few seconds, max. The implementation device changes all that. It’s silent and it can hold open the portal for longer spans of time—we’re not sure how long exactly, but we’ve uncovered some data that makes us believe it can maintain for at least an hour.”

“So?” Lucy prompted around a mouth full of hot pizza.

“Look what happened to Cindy and her sister in a few seconds. Now think if those creatures had the device.”

I felt a long, cold, shudder up my spine. “A stealth portal. One that large groups could walk through. They could invade. We could have an entire army of freaky lizard-shark people in Central Park. And no one would notice, because it’s Central Park. That wouldn’t even register on our weird scale.” Sometimes I loved New York and it’s ability to look at crazy crap and go, “Meh, so what? You think I’m impressed?” and keep walking. But in this case, it would bite us in the ass.

“The organization I work for thinks that the Order is in league with them, or at least they want to be. You would have been part of their gift, like a welcome basket.”

Lucy poked at her pizza like she’d lost her appetite. “But why have Cindy involved at all? Why not have dreamy Brit-boy hand it over?”

He scowled when she mentioned Douchewaffle Dreamypants. “If a third and unassociated party hands it over and things go wrong, they have plausible deniability. ‘It wasn’t us—just some crazy Asian girl.’” He looked at me apologetically.

Lucy was still frowning. “But then why go to all the trouble of getting Cindy? They could just, you know, pay a hobo or a hooker or something. That would make more sense.”

He shook his head. “You don’t get it. Cindy had talked. She’d told people. She was a liability. A surprise invasion is much better than one that people are looking for. Sure, everyone was laughing Cindy’s story off—simply another crazy kid. But they couldn’t take the chance that someone out there would take it seriously. Besides, Lani isn’t the first girl to go missing.”

Again, that cold feeling tiptoed up my spine. “What are you saying?”

Rasul leaned forward, his voice taking on a hushed quality. “They’ve taken dozens of people and they all fall within a certain range. All girls, all old enough to...you know....” He looked down at the table, flustered. “Blossoming. On the verge of womanhood.” He muttered the last bit.

“Blossoming? Did you just say blossoming? Who says things like that?”

If at all possible Rasul looked even more embarrassed as he responded to Lucy. “Fine. They’d all had their first cycle. Happy now?”

Again, Lucy wasn’t following his logic. “Cycle?”

I wanted to throw up. “He means that they all had their first period. It’s a breeding program. A bizarre alien breeding program. I’m going to be sick.” I grabbed Rasul by his keffiyeh and yanked him closer. “My baby sister is not going to get knocked up by a freaky lizard creature. She’s going to go to college. You need to help me.”

Rasul nodded, understanding. “I would do the same in your place,” he said it so softly, I almost couldn’t hear him over the hum of the restaurant. “You must understand, though—I can’t betray my organization. We mustn’t hand over the device. We can’t endanger the whole planet to save one girl.”

Lucy reached out and loosened my hold on Rasul’s keffiyeh, but didn’t let go of my hand. She grabbed Rasul’s and he blinked. “That’s why we’re going to come up with a plan. Together. One that saves the world, and Lani.”

I squeezed her hand gratefully. After all these weeks of being ridiculed and living with the frustration that no one was going to help me find my baby sister, it was nice to have someone on my side. But I wasn’t stupid, either. Wanting something and being able to do something weren’t the same thing. “And what, we’re just going to pull something like that out of our butts?”

She grinned at me. “Of course. Look, I have a 4.0 and take all AP classes. I’m a shoe-in for Valedictorian—”

“And yet all it takes is an accent and some muscles and your IQ drops fifty points,” Rasul said.

She huffed. “I’m a nerd, not dead. As I was saying, and without a trace of humility I might add, I’m the nerd you’re looking for.”

“You just want to play Doctor Who,” I said.

Her grin was almost manic. “There is that.”

Rasul had the harried look of someone who just realized that he’d hitched his caboose to a crazy train. “I’m going to regret this. I know I am, but I’m doing it anyway. Gretchen will never let me live it down.” He looked up, his soft eyes full of defeat. “What’s your plan?”

Lucy’s manic grin widened and she steepled her fingers. “Here’s what we’re going to do....”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Episode 3

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