Austyn scoffed. "Who doesn't?"
"So, nothing's bothering you?"
The moment Richard brought that question up, Austyn wondered if she should tell. She told. "I don't really know about it. It's been getting on my…nerves though."
Richard sat up. "What is it?"
"Lately, there's been some guys being everywhere in the same places I've been. First, they were flight attendants, then security guards, park bystanders, and now they're a garbage man and mail man."
"There are two?" He asked.
"Yeah. I don't really know if it's purely coincidental, or if something's up."
The two were silent in the loud and chaotic bus.
"I dunno. I'm not familiar with these kind of situations."
They both dragged into another conversation until they came up to Austyn's stop. She got off the bus and walked over to her Aunt's house, thinking about the day so far. It'd gone smoothly for her. As she reached the final block to her Aunt's house, she noticed something. Someone. There they stood, one as a mail man, the other as a garbage man. She ran all the way back to the house, forcing herself not to look back.
The next few days felt normal to her. She repeated the same procedure from previous mornings and headed back to school by foot. As she stepped outside and headed towards the end of the block, she turned slowly to her left she saw the man delivering the mail and the garbage man once again. When she finally had realized who they really were, she turned around and ran all the way to school.
At last, she'd come to Leighton High School as people were just arriving. She was early and didn't know what to do with the time she had remaining. Since she had nothing else better to do, she went into the complicated school and went to her locker once again. She'd tried to remember her combination. 7-19-21…19-7-21…21-19-7, or was the 21 a 12? Continuously she banged against the locker until her hand would hurt or the locker would open. It'd opened.
After she finished unpacking her backpack, she grabbed her textbook, notebook and log for her first class and shut the locker, creating a loud clanking sound of metal against metal. When she'd turned, the blood rushed down from her face. Darren was mopping the school floors with a rhythm in the same spot, over and over again. Austyn turned and walked towards her class, forcing herself not to turn around.
She'd arrived to her class, her cheeks rosy from walking to point where she was almost running all the way to class. Richard had arrived before her and was waiting at the desk.
"Hola, Austyn!" He said with his usual energetic voice.
"Morning." He voice was as dull as a rock.
"What's the matter? Where'd my daily morning Hispanic Austyn go?"
"She got in touch with her travel agent and went back to Mexico."
Richard scoffed. "That sucks."
The two had been practicing their Spanish in the morning usually since in the next class they both had Spanish.
"You alright? You don't look good." he said with some concern.
Austyn shrugged. "I dunno. I felt a little woozy this morning."
"You wanna go to the clinic?"
"I don't know where that is." Richard scoffed again.
A student who Austyn didn't know yet, but Richard obviously had, came up to Richard. "We've got a substitute today," he said quietly.
"Do you know who it is?" Richard asked quietly.
"Nah, I think he's new."
To Austyn, he wasn't new. He had introduced himself as Mr. Eisenhower. Austyn knew who he really was. Once Richard turned to her, he'd seen her face with no color at all, with her pupils dilated and confused looking.
"God, Austyn. Are you alright? You look freaking terrible. I'm calling the Mr. Eisenhower up."
Please don't do that. She thought.
"Mr. Eisenhower, she doesn't look so good!" Austyn could see a blurry figure standing up from the desk and walking over toward her.
"Austyn?" Richard grabbed her shoulder. "Austyn? Hey. Austyn. Austyn? Austyn, look at me. Austyn!"
She'd woken up on a bed with paper on top of it that would wrinkle at every move she made.
"You're awake. Finally." Richard and her Aunt stood over her, watching her like prey.
Austyn felt an annoying feeling in her head. "What happened?" she asked.
"You just passed out! Just-boom! You fell face flat on the desk."
Oh god. She thought.
"Do you want to go home Austyn? Do you want to rest a bit?" her aunt asked with compassion in her voice.
Go, soldier. You just passed out in the middle of class for no particular reason.
I have a perfect reason, sir!
It's a good reason, but not good enough to just faint all of the sudden.
You're not very fair, sir. Can't I just stay and see what Mr. Eisenhower and Darren are up to?
You just wiped out on your desk and you expect yourself to push yourself farther to see the same "reason" for why you completely lost it?
Fine. Just shut up. I need to replace you with Oprah Winfrey or someone.
"I'll go." Austyn finally said. "Hey, Richard,"
Richard picked up his head. "Yeah?"
"Could you drop off the homework at my Aunt's house today?"
Austyn lay on the sofa slurping a slurpee and read a novel without stopping. The doorbell had suddenly rung. She picked herself up from the couch and stepped cautiously to the door. Would it be the dangerous duo again? She peeked through the peephole in the door. Slowly, she opened it and it made an irritating creaking sound.
"Hola, Austyn. Feeling better?"
"There you are," Austyn smiled back at him.
"I've got the homework," he said gesturing at the large pile he was carrying.
"Thanks. Come on in." she turned and walked towards the living room then sagged on the couch, turning off the television. Richard set the textbooks and papers on the coffee table in front of him and Austyn, and then sat down.
"What've we got here?" she said, leaning forward to the homework pile.
"Lots of biology, but its cake, some Trig, and a packet in English."
Austyn arched her eyebrows at the large amount of homework assigned today.
"Is it all due tomorrow?"
"Uh…I think English is due Wednesday next week." Richard guessed.
Austyn debated with herself whether or not to start her homework right away, or if she should take the time to tell Richard about Mr. Eisenhower and Darren. She chose what was more important to her.
"Richard, remember the guys I told you about from the plane, gate, garbage truck and mail?"
"Yeah, the ones you think are following you?"
"Yes, only I know for sure they're following me. This isn't purely coincidental or anything. Did you see the new janitor this morning, and the substitute anytime before?"
Richard thought for a moment. "No, I haven't seen them before. Wait. Are they-?"
"Yes, they are!" Fear struck against Austyn making her feel weak again. The same way she had felt in class.
"Is that why you passed out in class?"
Austyn felt stupid at this point. Yes, she'd passed out at the shock of seeing them again, but it seemed to be something so odd to lose consciousness over. She decided to keep it on the down low.
"I can't remember clearly, but I do know he was there."
"Are you thinking about calling the cops?"
The question shook Austyn like an earthquake. Was it a situation that would need the police that much?
"I think I'll leave it alone for now."
"Alright, that's fine. Hey," There was a lighter side to Richard's voice. Austyn picked up her head and looked at him. "My friends and I wanted to invite you to something we do over the weekends a lot. It's kind of weird, but we enjoy it, and we thought you might also."
"What is it?" Austyn asked, feeling a slight sense of suspicion.
"Well, we like to call it Holme. You know, h-o-l-m-e. Kind of like home, but just a little different."
"What is it though? Like, what do you do there?"
"Nothing really. People just come there because they don't really feel at settled in their real home, so we just invite them here."
"Is it a real sort of organization or some kinky club you kids made up?"
Richard scoffed. "A kinky clubs we kids made up. It's actually really old though. Some student set it up in the 2000 and kind of passed on the tradition to other students. It's not just a few people either, it's like, the size of an entire grade. It's all mixed up too, so there's seniors, freshies, juniors, sophomores. There's no specific centered thing or theme of some sort to it. You just…go and feel at home."
Austyn thought it sounded interesting and wanted to come with Richard to Holme. She didn't feel alright about it completely though.
"This isn't some sort of…you know. Druggie sort of place? No illegal stuff?"
Richard burst out laughing. "No, no, no! Of course not! Do you think your regular home would just let puff away at whatever you want?"
"That depends on where you live." Austyn's tone remained dull and dry, but Richard could feel the sense of humor she was expressing.
"Well, is it a yes or a no?" He asked.
"I'm going to try it out for now and see what I think."
Richard's mood sparked. "That's great! I'll give you the directions to it," he pulled out a slip of paper with directions to a building Austyn couldn't identify there on the paper.
"I brought it just in case." He smiled purposely stupid again. "Come on Saturday at around 11 AM."
Slowly, he headed for the door as Austyn continued to look over the directions.
"Okay. Adios, Ricardo!" she called out to him as he left.
Saturday had come quicker than she'd thought. She stayed in bed
for an extra hour, taking in the morning's relaxing mood. Aunt
Jones had left for work, so the house was empty and all to
herself. Austyn wanted to take advantage of this, since her
aunt wouldn't be home until 10 PM, but she wanted to go to
Holme first thing in the morning.
As she headed out the door, she scanned along the block to see if Darren or Mr. E were anywhere within sight. They weren't.
Following the directions given on the sheet of paper Richard gave to her, Austyn went over to the bus transit, the subway, then another bus transit, which took her somewhere outside of Elmira. The rest of the way she had to walk.
She was taking herself out into a field of tall, yellow grasses that she couldn't see past the entire way. The noise of the ground crunching beneath her feet was becoming annoying as she walked toward a place that she was starting to doubt even existed.
Sir, what if this is a prank?
Why would it be a prank?
You know guys. They do stuff like this. Earn your trust and then just throw it in the garbage. Actually, everyone does that.
You got that from some Emmy award-winning movie, didn't you, soldier?
No, I got it from my own experiences.
I'm sure you did. Now keep walking! Even if there isn't a Holme for you, or anyone for that matter, just keep going. It's good exercise.
What she came across next gave her a workout. There it was, looking at her with cold and dead eyes. There was no collar, there was only foam around the mouth and teeth as sharp as fangs being snapped at her.
I'm running, sir!
Faster wasn't enough. The Rottweiler finally grabbed a hold of Austyn's jeans, and ripped off a large portion down by the feet. The dog stopped and chewed at the cloth as if it were a large piece of meat.
And then there it was. She never noticed it was so close to her before. The tall grass seemed a little too tall for her, but she didn't know she could just pass something like this. She glanced at the directions once again.
"Look for 'Holme'." It was printed onto the paper. Look for Holme. Was this it?
Austyn stepped back to see where and what it was.
It was in the middle of the unusually large field, about a mile away from a road. The entire building was trashed, graffiti covering it from people almost all the way back from the eighties, windows cracked and covered with plywood and paint peeling away at the side of the building. A pile about fifty feet high of debris was beside it. The building had smokestacks and a water tower on top, both covered in graffiti. It was the largest place Austyn had been up close to. The entire building probably took up two or three acres, maybe even more.
She didn't know whether to go in at the nearest entrance, or to look around and see if there was something to help her find what she was looking for. She didn't even know if this was where she was supposed to be. Yet, she decided to wander around the perimeter of the building, gazing at the graffiti and how stunning the dreadful place looked.
Then, at one point, she saw a large graffiti sign next to one of the beaten down doors. "Holme" it said. She went in.
Adrianna Robbins didn't wait very long for Austyn. She'd arrived earlier than she'd expected, though Richard had told her that that might happen. Austyn immediately saw her and knew she was in the correct place. Her hair was long and black and tied up into a pony-tail and she wore a tunic made of purple dyed silk with white lace leggings and small, ballet shoes. Her face was small and a bit pinched.
"You're Austyn, right?" She came towards her with a grin on her face.
"Yes, I am."
"Richard told me to take you to Holme. He said he invited you on Tuesday."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Sorry that it has to be a little, you know, a bit of a bad first impression. A lot of people get that when they first come here. Follow me."
They had both walked farther into the building. There barely lighting of any sort, only the sunlight peeking through the closed off windows and cracks in the wall.
"So, what was this place?"
"In 1914, it was Harder's Artificial Products Factory. They made things like fake flowers, plastic toys, things like that. It was successful, but later on during the Depression, it wiped the entire place out. The city council had plans to renovate this place or something, but abandoned it thirty years ago."
"Wow, they must've been lazy."
Adrianna laughed. "Yes, they were."
Then they'd arrived. Not everything was different from the rest of the factory in this place, but it was a lot better than what it already had.
There were lights set up everywhere, connected to outlets that led to small generators in another part of the area. There were collections of old, run down couches, tables, and all sorts of furniture. People sat down and talked, worked, or just did whatever they could find to do. There were some air-hockey tables, foosball tables, and pool tables throughout the room. Adrianna went over to the right and Austyn turned toward her to see Richard smiling at the both of them. He opened his arms up as Adrianna came towards him and the two shared a passionate-like kiss that triggered an unidentified feeling in Austyn. It wasn't jealously of some sort. It was an awkward feeling to just see Richard with someone. She'd known him so well; she didn't know he had a girlfriend though. It was actually pretty funny to her. She smiled at the both of them as they came forward, arm-in-arm.
"I see you've met Adrianna," Richard said. Adrianna bowed her head slightly and grinned again.
"Well, you've seen, it! Holme! Your Holme away from Home." He pointed to the West wall and there it was it large letters.
"Holme! Your Holme Away From Home!"
"Clever." Austyn said, nodding her head.
"Here, I'll show you the kitchen."
The three went into another room, this time a little more calm and clean, with lights on the ceilings, small refrigerators, a gas oven and counters with other kitchen tools.
"This is so awesome!" Austyn said with excitement. She felt the blood rush up into her head and the light-headed feeling coming up again.
"So you like it?" Richard said.
"Like it? I love it!"
Austyn had sat down with the rest of the people in Holme in the main area. Richard, Adrianna, and a few other people she'd recognized from her school stood in front of everybody.
"We'd like to introduce Austyn, our latest addition to Holme," Richard gestured towards Austyn and the people around her started clapping and greeting Austyn. Nothing felt so good in her life by being treated wonderfully by all of these people. A rush of ecstasy passed through her again.
"So, we'd like to go through a couple of things with her. First off, this is Holme. Treat it like your home away from home. Keep it nice and clean and respect the property. Everyone pitched in to give us some of their items they'd like for all of us to use. We also know that this place isn't the best place in the world, just don't make it worse. Second, we're not some sort of illegal club or anything; don't bring something that we know isn't going to be good. We don't want people knowing about us either. We're not some sort of secret society, we just want to stay on the down-low in the meantime. And lastly, if you're going to use the kitchen, please know how to know what you're making. Jacob over there almost started a fire two months ago because he couldn't make spaghetti," there was a cough in the room. "So if you need help with something, let someone who can cook know. That's it!"
Sounded simple enough. This place was perfect. It was civilized, it was clean, and it was everything Austyn hadn't thought about that was absolutely perfect. Nothing could ruin this place for her.
Within a few days, Austyn was a well-known figure at Holme. People would come to her and talk to her, or just wave a "hello" to her as they passed. She had no dislikes there. Everyone was the same way to each other. It was like a friendly American neighborhood; neighbors talking to each other over the fences or in their front yards or anything. There were no gossipers.
One day, Richard had brought up the forgotten topic in Austyn's head.
"Hey, are those guys from earlier gone now? You haven't talked about them for a while." He said.
"Oh, them? Yeah, I haven't seen them. Maybe they've laid off now."
"Yeah, probably. At least we know they're not going to bother you anymore."
They all had no idea how wrong they were.
The end of day soon came, and almost everyone had left. Only Richard, Adrianna and Austyn stayed behind. They were talking and picking up after everyone else. It was going as everyday had gone so far. Something had come to Austyn's attention although. She looked up to see the far doors wide open, leaving the sunset's rays pouring into the factory.
"Did anyone leave the doors open?" She asked the two.
"No, why?" Adrianna turned to the doors, with Richard behind her.
Austyn pointed to the open doors. "They're open."
Within a flash, a plywood wall they'd build weeks before crashed down to the cement floor, making debris piles flying everywhere. Everyone had turned toward the crashed plywood wall in complete shock.
Austyn was the most shocked.
There they stood, one with an m1911A1 single-action .45 FACP semi-automatic pistol, the other with a M1903 Springfield rifle. Everyone's immediate reaction was to run. Adrianna was shortly behind Richard, who were both heading towards the kitchen. Austyn shuffled around the place, trying to find a place to run.
"Austyn!" Richard screamed.
The first man turned towards where Richard had screamed Austyn's name and walked towards it, still holding the rifle. Richard peeked out of the doorway.
"Mr. Eisenhower?" He said, with question.
Mr. Eisenhower didn't bother to answer; he only held up his gun and fired at Richard.
"Shit!" Richard screamed again and shifted quickly back into kitchen. Austyn could hear Adrianna shrieking behind him. She focused back onto the second man. He stood over her, his semi-automatic in one hand, and his free hand balled into a fist.
"Get away from me!" Austyn tried to run past him, but his fast reflexes had grabbed her by the shoulder and slammed her into another weak plywood wall, causing it to crash down also. The only sound she could make was a small whimper.
"Austyn!" She recognized Adrianna's voice immediately, opening her eyes and scanning around to see where her voice was coming from while she was still on the floor. The only thing she could see was Darren stepping towards her, his face cold and hard. He stopped two feet in front of her and raised his pistol to her. This was the end, Austyn knew it. Her eyes focused on the barrel of the gun the entire time. The adrenaline in her body had completely run out. She remained on the floor, waiting for him to pull the trigger and black out forever.
Then Austyn heard Adrianna's voice again.
"Richard, no!" Austyn thought it was the same thing for him. Eisenhower must've had him at his end also. He didn't.
She felt herself be picked up by a pair of hard hands then flipped over on her stomach away from where she was laying, and then heard an ear-splitting gunshot directly behind her. When she fell to the floor she immediately picked up her head to see what had happened. Her heart sank and felt another feeling coming up her throat.
Richard lay on the cement floor, his face only inches away from Austyn's, his eyes closed and his left cheek on the floor, facing towards Austyn. She whimpered again, as Adrianna screech her lungs out. The tears began to build up in Austyn's eyes, but she held them back, as much as it hurt.
You have to get back up, soldier, and you're going to run!
What about Adrianna?
She's a dead dog.
Adrianna jumped behind all the furniture she could find and chucked everything she could pick up at Eisenhower. She wondered why he wasn't shooting at her with his rifle when he did with Richard. That didn't make her hesitate one second. His friend there had killed Richard, and now she was going to kill both of them.
She wished. At this rate, running away from them wouldn't do any sort of good. Killing wasn't her first priority though. She had to get out of here, and make sure Austyn could too. Hoping Austyn was still okay, she turned her head over to her. She was being grabbed and choked by Richard's killer relentlessly.
"Austyn!" She screamed again. Austyn couldn't turn her head even one degree over towards Adrianna. Her neck was locked in Darren's grasp. But what she could see was Darren's machete, resting in its case on the side of his belt loop within her reach. Was it worth the risk? Of course it was. Her life was being constricted away slowly by each passing second.
Her hands swiped the machete from its holder and she sliced Darren's arm quickly and precisely with the most force she could put into it. For the first time, Austyn heard Darren's voice. He yelled and gritted his teeth and let go of Austyn. Eisenhower turned around immediately to see what had happened. At that moment, Adrianna took advantage of that moment and ran again. This time, completely away from the area. Austyn was left to the two ruthless men.
When Adrianna had finally reached the busy road, she stepped in the middle of the lane, waving down the cars. A black Ford Fusion screeched to a stop and honked continuously at her. The driver had seen the tears pouring down her face and stepped out of the car immediately.
He was Hispanic, with a mustache and a balding hairline and was late for a meeting. "What you doing, girl? What is wrong?"
Adrianna stammered and sniffled and pointed over to the factory. "They killed them! They killed them!" Was the thing she managed to say in her panic.
The man's concern worsened. "Killed? Oh god! Do you want to go to the police? Do you want me to call them?" Adrianna could only cry more and more as cars slowed down to see the sight of what caused the car to stop. The man pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911.
"911, what's your emergency?"
"Yes, a -uh- a girl just stopped in the middle of road and she is uh…sobbing. She keeps saying 'they killed them'."
"Did she explain who they and them were?"
"No! I just say she won't say anything else. She's little bloody, so I don' think is joking." The man tried his best to speak English fluently.
"Uh, alright. We have police coming towards your location." He had hung up and rushed towards Adrianna.
"Come to side of road, ni�a. Come." Adrianna followed the man, stilling sobbing hysterically.
The police had come shortly. It was only one cop car with two officers.
"What happened, sir?" The first officer asked.
"I don' know. Girl runs in road, I stop, she cries. What else do want me to do?"
The officer didn't respond, they only went straight forward to Adrianna.
"Young lady, I'm going to have to ask you what just happened."
It took a while for Adrianna to get a hold of herself. Once she was able to control her breathing, she spoke.
"The old Harder's factory," She paused to let out another cry. "My friends and I were there-"
The second officer cut her off. "Who're your friends?"
"Austyn Jones and Richard Dominic. We were cleaning up and two men came in and tried to kill Austyn, but," this time she screamed and buried her face in her hands. "Richard got in the way and they shot them instead! Richard, you idiot! Why'd you have to do that?!" She continued crying and the officers looked at each other.
"Where's Harder's factory, young lady?"
Adrianna could only point to the West which was where the factory was.
"I'll go." The first officer said. He went off into the tall grass and disappeared.
The expressway had heavy traffic now. People were slowly passing by the scene and watching to see what happened.
"Let me take you home,"