Chapter 1

Movie Night

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Location Unspecified

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"Where will it lead?

Once it does happen, who will stand up against it?

Can this all be prevented?

Or is it unavoidable?

I had worked so hard against it, but now it seems I have failed.

This is my last warning to all those who are reading this:

do not try to oppose them or else..."

That was where the letter cut off, having been partially cooked in the same fire that burned the house where it resided. Luther Quinn grimaced knowing had been too late to prevent it, although he was not surprised that it happened. Whoever the enemy was, they had gotten to the house first. The person who wrote the letter knew too much information it seemed; too much information posed him as a threat to the enemy. However, one question still remained in Luther's mind: why did the enemy burn down the house if they only needed one man? An act such as reducing a home to cinders in a neighborhood drew more attention, not less.

Luther chose not to show the authorities the letter because he knew that it would serve him better in the end. He pocketed the letter and started to leave the disaster scene. Although he was thankful he managed to arrive, his new source of information--the man--was most likely reduced to ashes inside the wreckage. Since the owner of the house had called him the day before, Luther could only take in the idea that if he had arrived earlier and conversed with the man, so many more lives could have been saved.

Silently walking past the group of distracted authorities and onlookers, Luther Quinn slipped out of the subdivision to where his motorcycle awaited him.

--

Terre Haute, Indiana

--

It was on his mind again.

Every so often, he thought of families across the nation who desperately searched for their missing loved ones.

Not even his friend Karen and her family remained safe against unwarranted intrusion. Her brother, snatched away without mercy. Playing one moment, then gone into nothingness; taken by some unidentified predator. No information regarding his whereabouts even popped up in the slightest bit, despite the police trying to gain any traction in the search. He remembered how distraught and perturbed Karen felt over the whole situation. Time and time again he told her it was going to be okay but even he wasn't sure what the outcome was going to be. Karen had gotten better, that much was certain, but he still noticed she seemed more subdued than normal.

"So like I was saying, Jim was acting stupid in what he did. He really shouldn't have made Jennifer so angry. Of course, Jennifer does have a right to be angry considering what happened today."

Seth Richards listened to the rants of his friend Kyle, only he had trouble deciphering what was being said due to the excess noise made by the other people in the movie theater. Sighing deeply, he caught something that sounded like 'Jim' and 'Jennifer' but he didn't ask for Kyle to repeat what was said. He knew it was easier to just nod your head if Kyle was speaking to you.

Kyle's nice and all, thought Seth. He just gets overexcited.

"So then Jim comes crying to me looking for an answer as to why Jennifer dumped him. It was obvious but I played my cards right and didn't tell him outright what was going on. He should be able to figure it out himself-"

Sullen eyes belonging to Seth continued to watch the flashing ads on the movie screen. Scratching his head, he pulled out several long strands of long brown hair by accident and he shook them off of his gaunt, slightly pale face. Adjusting his position in his chair, he stretched his long, stocky legs out until they hit the seat in front of him. His faded jeans strained under the tension and his jacket rustled. Tall and lanky, he felt the side of the armrest dig into his ribs and he shifted until he was comfortable again.

Apparently the screen thought he needed some encouragement to eat while he twisted and ads on the movie screen flashed in front of his eyes.

Try South Cineplex 16's New Popcorn, Our own Original Recipe!

"…then Jim tried to get Steve, Jennifer's ex-boyfriend, to help fix things. Exactly what he thought Steve could fix is beyond me, so in my opinion, Jim's dumber than a stuffed olive .."

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"…Steve then thought Jim was trying to insult him and so that explained the nasty fight after school today in the back lot. You didn't happen to see it did you? It got kind of ugly."

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After watching a subsequent ad for ice cream, Seth decided to cut Kyle off.

"Look Kyle, I've lost interest. I know Jim isn't too smart but you don't have to relay the story all over again to me, okay? I already heard the story from Karen."

Kyle's face fell. "Oh…you did?" he asked. Karen, who sat to his right, nodded in exasperation.

"Uh, sorry. why didn't you tell me?"

"It's alright, I just tuned you out."

Kyle shook his head in mock disbelief but Seth was actually glad his friend chose to change the subject. Moments before, discussions of strange disappearances and the nature of Karen's missing brother had represented the centerfold of their conversation.

"Hey Karen," said Kyle. "Wasn't Teresa supposed to come too?"

Karen sighed and looked off to the seat they had saved for their friend. "She couldn't. I think she had to go help her mom with something tonight but she never said what it was."

"Sheesh, you think she could get out more. Oh well, more popcorn for me!" Kyle exclaimed happily.

"Do you ever stop thinking about food?" inquired Seth.

"Nope, never!" replied Kyle. With a swift hand motion, he grabbed the large popcorn bucket on the floor.

A chuckle was the only thing Seth allowed himself to utter, and Karen laughed soon after. The conversational subject changed again.

"So, Seth where are you going to college, have you figured it out yet?" Karen asked across from Kyle.

Seth shifted uncomfortably in his seat and closed his eyes: Why does Karen care so much…why does it even matter? Sure, we're friends but she doesn't press Kyle like this…oh wait, that was because Kyle said he was going to Purdue University in West Lafayette…Karen's going to Indiana State here in town I think.

He crossed his arms like he always did when people addressed him on, what was in his opinion, a touchy subject. Karen's question made him recall the conversation he had with his mom a year ago in his junior year:

--

"I'm not going to college…is that why you're so upset?" he had asked his mom.

"But why…you've got decent enough grades in all your classes! Why should you not go?"

"Look, it's just my decision alright? I'll find some job and apartment for rent somewhere…don't worry about me."

"Don't worry about you? You're my son! It's what your father would have wanted!"

Seth remembered how his mother's eyes filled with tears after the mention of "your father."

"How do we know what dad would've wanted since he's no longer around to tell us?!"

--

A voice derailed his train of thought. "Um…Seth? Are you okay? You look angry."

Seth put his arms down and leaned over to stare at Karen. Karen Etherton, he reminded himself, a girl who always seemed to care. Not just about him and the rest of their usual crew--Kyle and Teresa--but she was always involved in some sort of community service work: he knew Karen could be seen near highways picking up trash or at community shelters donating food.

Kyle downed a swig of popcorn and stared at him. Seth grudgingly decided that now was finally the time that he broke the news to his friends. Looking at Karen's dark hair that swished behind her as well as the inquisitive blue eyes on her freckled face, he shook his head.

"I'm not going to college, okay?"

Karen was confused. "Wait, you're not? But all this time you've been working really hard and such. Remember the report we did on the Color Spectrum? Teach' said that you had the potential to go far in science. Didn't you have a high grade in there?"

"Look, can we talk about this some other time? Why is it such a big deal? It's not like the fate of the world depends on it. There are plenty of things I want to do that I can get a job in."

Karen opened her mouth again to protest but Kyle butt in quickly. "Look, it's just his decision alright? He knows what he wants to do so leave him be! Besides, the previews are starting and I don't want to miss them!"

The lights indeed dimmed to a gentle glow and the noise in the theater died down as Seth popping his back and Kyle's mouth smacking the popcorn could be heard among quiet whispers. All the while, Seth could tell that Karen was still concerned and disappointed for not being able to continue her persuasion.

"We'll talk later!" Seth whispered to her. However, his pacification seemingly failed as she merely shook her head and sighed. Seth rubbed his eyes and groaned. Seriously, that's Karen's problem. She overreacts on things that don't really matter.

The previews started to roll out and Seth allowed himself to be caught up in a world that could only be viewed on screen. For a few hours, the magic of the movies would unroll leaving him caught up in a story not their own.

--

"Seriously, that was the stupidest movie I've ever seen, and this is coming from the guy who saw Tomato Wars! The special effects weren't even convincing in the least! This isn't nineteen-ninety four!"

The movie was over and Seth, along with Karen and Kyle, stood out on the parking lot along with other moviegoers. During the movie, night had fallen completely and unbeknownst to Seth, it was past eleven o' clock. Listening to Kyle rant once again like he always did when he hated something, Seth watched his friend wave his curly black hair out of his eyes and continue to pout. Seth noticed that Kyle, even though he was only average size at best, imposed when he was angry.

"Really, who expects a summer blockbuster with a promising cast like that to have the worst special effects ever? This is the season where the effects are supposed to be the best in the business!"

"Yeah, well it wasn't exactly the holder of a good plot was it?" retaliated Seth. "What were you expecting, some sort of epic, life-changing moment?"

"Maybe." Kyle shrugged. "I can't discuss this right now guys, I'll see you all later. Good previews though, yeah, good previews." He strode across the lot in the mild wind, Seth and Karen left to stand alone. There was no need for anyone to describe the awkward silence between them.

"So, are you still angry at me?" Seth asked. He wanted to leave but he knew he wouldn't get away very easy.

"Angry at you? Of course I'm not angry! It's just that you have so much potential and I hate to see you not use it!"

"Who said that I wasn't going to use my potential just because I didn't go to college? I have other hobbies too! You know this already, why am I even saying it again?"

Karen scoffed. "Fine, how could I forget…what do you like to do Mr. Nonchalant?" Her ferocity increased by tenfold, Seth noticed people walking to their cars were starting to stare.

"Look can we quiet down?" he said in a hushed voice. "Fine I'll tell you my hobbies, it's not like you don't know me enough after hanging out for four years. I like computers and video games are okay I guess. Bikes too, in fact I think I'll join a bike company. There, does that appease you?"

But Karen was not listening anymore and she turned around to show her defiance. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "it's not you, it's just I've been stressed ever since…"

Her eyes filled with tears and Seth knew immediately of what she was talking about. Karen's brother Gary was on her mind. Although her family still felt distressed, it was not the biggest problem. The real problem had showed its face a while ago.

People from all over Indiana had been reported missing. While some dismissed it as no cause for concern, the number had exceeded the one-hundred mark two days ago. Then Seth had heard reports that more people had been vanishing from other states as well. As suspected, there had been a major cause for concern. Even police forces of every county were making more rounds trying to track someone down.

As strange as it seemed, that people from all over were vanishing in a matter of a few months, it was obviously a mass effort. Anyone would be baffled that a group of people were all linked to this mass abduction, but it was undoubtedly true that this wasn't coincidence. Seth alone had seen the nightly news reports a week ago on how the FBI had already concluded that it was a mass effort, and said they were conducting investigations and interviews. Suspects supposedly had already been labeled. But from where to start, that had been the scary thing. There were very few directions to go. The FBI did work as well as it could, Seth guessed, but he figured it wasn't much to lean on. Sure, they might have made headway but it didn't change the fact of how the victims became victims. People who were abducted simply disappeared on the spot and were never seen again.

"I know that you feel pain for your brother," said Seth. "But there is no use in taking your stress out on me. I'm just one more person to add to your already large burden. But if you ever need to talk about anything, I'll listen if I can."

Karen wiped tears from her eyes and nodded. "I'm sorry, it's just that there's going to be an empty seat at graduation next week where all of the families sit."

"Take it easy Karen, it will be okay. The police will find whoever's doing this and Gary will be found safe, I'm sure of it."

Seth was of course not sure of it, but anything that would get Karen to calm down would be used to its efficiency. She responded to this with a wry smile in which she then quickly hugged him and walked to her car on the other end of the lot.

"…Which leaves me," Seth said glumly as he glanced back towards the movie theater. Groups of people chatted aimlessly on the sidewalks, and others were walking back to their cars as well. The bike rack near the entrance still held his old bike and he strode toward it at a brisk pace. He hated not having his own car yet, but Seth knew the use of his bicycle would never falter for him.

It's not as if the gas prices are doing me any favors either, he thought as he undid the chain holding the contraption. He got on quickly, clipped his helmet, and set off for home.

--

So why does Karen take out her anger on me anyway? I know she doesn't like me because we've only been friends and she's still going out with George anyway. Even if Gary hadn't been abducted would she still act this way? Or does it still have to do with the fact that I'm not going to college? I'm getting a diploma and then I'm out.

Seth was once again lost in his own musings which, from what his companions told him, happened a lot. Riding down Florence Street, he shifted gears to adjust to the bumpy road. The neighborhood where he drove was quiet and Seth wished his house was closer. But he soon found that he didn't care. The exercise was just fine and he enjoyed the view of the outskirts as he biked farther south.

When he came to a stop sign, Seth let himself get lost in his thoughts once again. He shifted gears again and concentrated on the stars that shone on the horizon of the night sky. That is the one good thing about being out here. Nobody to tell you to move or get over when you're biking. But it sure seems like people are more uptight these days. It's all because of these vanishings. They'll find the culprit though, they have to.

The road started to twist and turn downwards and Seth switched gears again.

But it's not as if this is going to go on forever…but how long can the abductors keep this up without getting caught. And why so may adults? Is not as if they go in quietly or are led in by candy or tricks.

Gears switched a third time.

But if even this had been going on for months and the FBI still have no lead or evidence for anything than this has to be big, like some sort of unexplained phenomena. Search me, I have no idea.

A sound of gears clicking echoed around him.

I'll bet mom's worried too, but she would be after Dad's disappearance was similar to the ones that have been happening all over. Nothing, no trace, absolutely nothing to lead on whatsoever. She probably thinks I'm next.

Seth hadn't realized he already arrived on the country road his house lay next to. It seemed he had ridden down the path to his house so many times; his body now took him there on its own. The house stood out among the slightly barren fields. Painted white, with black shutters, it had two floors. A garage connected on its left side. However, through all of its changes and individualities, further inspection revealed it to be no different than any average country house someone would have seen on a typical day.

He put his bike inside the garage and Seth entered his home only to be greeted by his irate mother in the foyer.

"I was starting to worry, you said you'd be back at eleven!" she said shrilly.

"Sorry, I guess I should have called. The movie lasted longer than expected."

"'I guess I should've called?' That's all you have to say in a time when people are vanishing for no apparent reason?"

Knowing how much his mom cared made him feel guilty about leaving her in more darkness than was necessary. He knew ever since his dad had been gone she would do anything to keep him safe. Just as all mothers would.

"Okay, you're right, I was careless and I was stupid, I should've called beforehand," Seth retorted. But seeing his mom raise her hand to her forehead in exasperation only heightened the impression that something else had happened.

He feared the answer. "Er…what do I not know about?"

Jackie Richards only shook her head. Seth now knew that it was still about him. He braced for the storm of fury that was to come.

"What do you not know about? Have you any idea how worried I was with you out past curfew and not one single call to this house?"

"I didn't take my cell phone, I accidentally left it-"

"Forgot? You are eighteen and it's a week until graduation. You still only have that job at Earl's Bike Shop! What are you going to do? Where will you go after it's over? You know you can't stay here!"

His mother's words hung in his mind to dry, but he knew she was right. Funds for her company had been cut and she feared that she had been close to losing her job as an executive at her paper company she worked for. Her payday had been getting smaller and smaller which was telling Seth that he too had needed a job. They weren't poor, but they weren't well off either.

Seth tried to argue back. "Kyle is staying at his brother's house until he moves all his stuff into his dorm at Purdue and he said I could come along for a few months as his brother says might have a job up there for me-they say they need cyclist experts in a department of a company-"

"DO YOU THINK, SETH RICHARDS, THAT ALL WILL GO AS YOU PLAN? TRY AT LEAST-"

But Seth knew no matter how hard he and his mom argued neither side would triumph. The war started in freshmen year and would probably never end. He had no idea what his mom was saying now and let the words wash over him. He knew she was right…he had lived his life so far with an air of unconcern and contempt, just taking things in stride…but was it as bad as she made it out to be?

"Look, mom, I'm sorry okay? I'll rethink the whole college thing if it will make you feel better. You're right; I'm being stupid ever since dad…left."

There was nothing more that was said between them as his mom suddenly hugged him and spoke in a whisper. "Just promise me you'll call next time okay?"

"I promise," he replied weakly.

He pushed himself away and trudged upstairs where he hoped some sort of consolation would present itself in the form of sleep.

--

Two weeks had passed and school, along with graduation, was now over. Summer let itself known by the sun baking Terre Haute with its rays. The air conditioner was on full blast and boredom drilled Seth's brain. Being in his room when he returned from the bike shop job, it was too hot to do anything outside and he entertained himself by bouncing a ball on the wall opposite him as he lay on his bed.

The room itself seemed old to him and indeed it was--the room he slept in was familiar since he could remember. A small book case held a cell phone, a wallet and several graphic novels. Back in junior high, Seth remembered how he had gone crazy for graphic novels and had even wanted to draw his own. But a few sketches showed that not a grain of artistic talent was present at all in his body and his interests soon switched to bikes and machines after touring a factory in his freshman year. Thus his current job had been born and it suited him just fine.

With each rebound, the ball he threw made a distinctive sound when it hit the wall.

Bonk!

I hope Karen's okay, she cares too much, that's why she's so worked up. She needs to let the police just do what they can do and get over it.

What kind of thinking was that? Seth told himself. Wow, I'm getting to be insensitive lately. Maybe I should just shut my mouth and stop acting like I only care about myself.

Bonk!

But in the end, that's all I really do care about. No that's not right, I do have friends and family.

Crash!

The ball dodged his attempt to catch it and knocked the bedside lamp over. It hit the hardwood floor and the bulb broke into pieces. Trying to imitate what he had seen all the time in the movies and TV shows, he felt like the person troubled in some way and took out their stress by bouncing a ball on the wall opposite them. It worked quite well in his opinion. For a while anyway.

Just as he started to pick up the bulb shards, his bedroom door creaked open and Seth looked to see an unfamiliar man in his room. A cursory glance told Seth he had no idea who the man was at all. Short blond hair with aviator glasses along with a jumpsuit that looked like it was used for combat was not what Seth expected on a visitor either.

Seth stood in shock, fearing that if he made a sudden move, the man might retaliate. "Who're you and how'd you get in here?"

The man stood in silence. Seth felt his heart pumping faster

"Answer me or you get this broken lamp in the face, who are you?"

The man still said nothing but drew a pistol from a holster. Seth's eyes bulged as the man raised it. What was going on? This was all wrong, it couldn't be happening. A woozy feeling of something surreal came in his mind and for a moment he couldn't even remember why he was in his room. Why was a man in a military combat uniform pointing a gun at him, an eighteen-year-old kid who--as far as he could tell--had done nothing wrong? He prepared himself for the worst. His teeth shook slightly and he gritted them.

"Follow me and don't try to resist," rasped the man. "If you do, it will only make it more painful when we do get you."

Seth raised his lamp in front of him even though he knew it wouldn't do much good against an oncoming bullet. Think! Think! Um...okay, I need to kick him or something. Or maybe I should surrender, no that won't do. Or..

The gun clicked. "Three," whispered the man. Seth could smell cigarette smoke on the man's breath wafting towards him.

"Can we talk?" he asked.

"Two," said the man. A sound of fingers clenching the gun handle rendered goose bumps on Seth's arms. "You're not making this any easier you know," continued the man in his raspy tone.

"Easier? I don't even know you! Mom stay away, this guy's armed!"

His mother had heard the commotion and came up the stairs where his room was. Noticing the man and the gun, she let out an estranged yell.

The man ignored the shriek of Ms. Richards and aimed his gun straight at Seth's chest.

"One. Your loss, kid."

The click of the trigger resounded throughout the room and the gun fired.