“Entropy” by Jaela Berry

A24
Art by Val Monroy

Entropy by Jaela Berry

Chapter One: Utter Stillness

I’ve been forced into this horrendous and ridiculous marriage with Jared Meyer, the son of Kaleb Meyer, the founder and CEO of Pine Co., which is one of the biggest medical supply companies in Vermont. My mother’s company, Des Peres Co., also sells medical supplies. Jared and I getting married was the only way the two companies could combine forces. Automatically, this made Jared and I the “Infinite Power Couple.” It was just a few months back that my mother used to be rival companies with Pine Co., but this “marriage” totally flipped the script. 

Jared’s father wanted him to be married to someone he personally knows. A few months back, Kaleb said to hell with my mothers’ funds and denied their partnership. I didn’t get why my mother wanted to partner with him anyway. Her company had a higher stock market value than Pine Co. ever would. But, my mother is greedy, and if she wants something it will eventually be in her possession. My family is money-hungry, and I’ve known this since I was an infant. But, with our marriage, it began to affect my future.

…Two years later 

Two years. I’ve been “married” to this rude and arrogant jerk for two years. My life has been chaos ever since the marriage. Jared isn’t good husband material at all. I mean, his features are impeccable. He has these beautiful hazelnut colored eyes, and along with his jet black colored hair, he makes my heart flutter at times. The problem is, he’s only lovey-dovey in front of our parents, but back at the house, I might as well be one of the paintings on the wall.

He’s also been getting in later as the nights go by. He always says, “I have to work late tonight again,” or “Don’t expect me to come in any earlier today, the office has been busy.” But, it makes me curious and worried at times when he’s out late. Honestly, I could care less about what he does when he’s not here. As long as it doesn’t affect my mother’s company. 

The next morning, I raise my hand to feel the other side of the bed. Go figure, Jared is nowhere to be found. What does he do all night? I figure that he just drinks and parties, knowing damn well his father would be disappointed. Getting up, I go downstairs to the kitchen and make myself some breakfast. I have to go visit my ever so lovely mother today at her company. Just at that moment, Jared busts into the house with a look of shock and despair plastered on his defined features. I look up at him and roll my eyes, “Jared–,” but he cuts me off by throwing his car keys on the ground.

 

Chapter Two: The Commencement

What is he going on about? He’s standing at the door all beat up and clearly distraught. 

“T-The trust funds, Vareena!! The trust funds my father handed over to me!!” 

I drop the fork that is in my hand, running over to Jared. Harshly, I grab his already wrinkled collared shirt and yell at him, “You have to be joking, Jared! Tell me that you are joking! How could this even happen?!” Thoughts begin to fill my head, feeling like the whole house is spinning. Does he know the damage that he has done to my mother’s company? He just ruined my mother’s whole career and my future. 

I don’t know if I want to slap him, cry, or do both. How could he do this to my family? I don’t care what happens to his father’s company. My mother’s company is more important, and so is her reputation. I don’t know how I’m going to tell her, my mother is greedy and powerful. This news is going to make the evil come out of her. 

He looks at me, a wicked smile coming across his features. I shake my head and slap him across his face before standing up. 

“You’ll regret that, Vareena. You don’t know what you’ve just done,” he said, a hint of mischief in his tone. 

I couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth. I hated him even more than I did when we first met. 

Then it hits me. There’s only one way to lose over three million dollars in this city. Erebus. Erebus is the biggest and most powerful mafia in Vermont. They are known to get what they want and at any time they desire it.

His father is going to be horrified. Erebus used to terrorize his whole family. They’re just like my mother, money-hungry and way too powerful. If they don’t get their money, they’ll find you and you won’t be existing anymore. Their president, LJ, is the most dangerous. No one knows his real name, but a few people have seen him before, and they say he’s the most terrifying of the gang.

I look at Jared, disgusted. At first, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. I can’t keep anything from my mother. I think about it more as I try to gather my thoughts. It hits me, telling our parents would cause chaos. Chaos is never a good thing, especially when Erebus is involved.

 

Chapter Three: Asylum

God, why has my life become so complicated? This makes no sense. Ever since Jared came into my life, it’s been hell for my mother and me. She’s losing her funds because Pine Co. screwed her over. But knowing her, she’ll bring the whole company down with the snap of her finger. Erebus is the biggest problem right now.

We need to get rid of them. No, Jared needs to get rid of them. He’s the one that put us into this predicament, and he’s going to get us out of it. He of all people should know how treacherous they are. Erebus killed his mother. To be specific, LJ killed her. That’s why his father is so hateful towards any type of self-proclaimed “thug.” He’s afraid that they will take the rest of his family.

I need to lay down. It feels like the whole house is spinning as I’m thinking. Jared’s sitting against the wall, and he looks like he’s in pain. I don’t like seeing him like this. It’s breaking my heart.

Going over to him, I see that he’s bleeding. It’s all over his shirt, and it’s making my insides churn. It’s gory and disgusting to look at. He’s holding his side as light groans of pain escape from his bruised lips. I don’t know if I should help him or not. I’m not in any way trained. Seeing him like this makes my heart ache for some strange reason.

I gently touch his wounds, and he hisses loudly. 

“Did they do this to you?” I gently ask him. 

He nods, the pain very apparent on his defined features. As I get up, I notice an envelope laying next to his big figure. Picking it up, I see that it’s stained with blood, looking like someone was eager to open it. Opening the envelope, a piece of crumpled up paper falls out. I look at Jared before opening it, scared for what I’m about to read. I almost drop the paper as I feel my hands shake.

The paper reads, “Be her Asylum, she’ll need one – LJ.” 

I’m scared and I’m afraid of what’s going to come next. What happened last year was wrong, but I thought they were over it. I have heard Erebus holds grudges, but for a year… they must want to kill me.

 

Chapter Four: Sacred

Why the hell is this happening? I thought Erebus’s issues were over. Jared’s run-in with them was over a year ago. Well, I guess not. I’m not gonna lie, I’m horrified right now. My mother’s life is also on the line right now. Hell, she’s the one who started it! I’m shaking and my thoughts won’t process. I don’t know what came over me, and it might just be fear.

I look at Jared, and he looks weaker than ever. I go to get him some bandages, and as I walk back over to him I begin to think, “Will he even protect me? What will happen to him if he does try to protect me? Will his father get involved eventually? What will my mother–”

Jared’s continuous groaning cuts my thoughts short. I sanitize his wounds, making sure not to hurt him more than he already is. I wrap the bandage around his side that seems to have been cut deep. He looks at me while the pain is still very apparent on his face. 

“I’ll protect you, V,” he barely even whispers. 

Hearing him say this makes me want to cry. I feel like an emotional wreck right now, and it’s not good. I want to protect him as well, but I feel like I’m forgetting how to talk right now. I want to talk, but the words aren’t coming out of my mouth. He looks so innocent sitting in the same spot for the last couple of hours now. I gently grab his beat-up face to study his bruises. 

“Jared, why did they–.” He cuts me off once again, this time with just a look. That’s a Jared thing I guess. He looks at me, then looks down at his bruised hands.

“I didn’t let them have you. LJ asked for you,” Jared says, clearly this time.

“Why does he want me? I don’t even know this man,” I try to say in a less fearful tone, but it doesn’t work.

Jared looks at me as he slowly stands up. “He wants your mother. He knows that you are the most important thing to your mother and…others.” He whispers the last part. 

So, this is about last year. Last year, my mother got Louis, the former president of Erebus, murdered. She found out about their plan to take over another powerful mafia, Asmodeus. She ratted them out, and Asmodeus’ current president murdered Louis. And Louis is LJ’s father.

“I have to get rid of them. It’s not safe for you or your family,” I say, clear enough for him to understand. 

I am on the verge of tears and my voice is wavering, but I’m not going to sit here and look weak in front of him. 

Jared’s eyes suddenly grow darker and he looks like he wants to kill someone. “We will get rid of them. I will protect you, Vareena. Even if that means getting killed,” his tone agitated. 

I almost forget who he is, because at this very moment I want to kiss and hug him. As if he were my husband.

 

Chapter Five: After The Heist

I have two major problems right now. Jared is severely injured, and LJ can murder me at any given moment. Pine Co. got me into this mess, so they should be the ones to get me out. My mother’s company is going downhill, but now I’m dealing with the consequences. Obviously. But I need to focus on Jared right now, or he’s going to die. And I don’t think his father would be too happy to know that he’s involved with Erebus. But, it’s not safe out there in the open.

Grabbing Jared’s bruised face, I notice a birthmark of some sort. But, it looks like the Erebus gang sign. This can only mean one thing. They branded him, and it’s my fault. Now, I definitely can’t take him to the emergency room. They’ll ask so many questions, and then they’ll try to arrest him. His father would get involved, and it would be hell from there. 

Why did he have to get involved with Erebus in the first place? He knows that LJ killed his mother. He was the one that discovered her body.

Jared needs professional help, but it’s not safe outside. The outside world is our biggest enemy, but inside isn’t any safer though. They know where we live, and I don’t know what to think right now. The only thing on my mind is Jared and his health. I can take him to my mother’s private hospital, but it’s a big risk. No one knows where that hospital is. Not even Erebus is aware of that place, or, at least I hope so.

Jared looks like he’s in so much pain right now. He’s bleeding everywhere. His left eye is swollen, and he’s branded on his once ever so delicate skin. I’m still confused as to why he was even involved with Erebus. The main reason why people get involved with the mafia is for a “loan,” but Jared’s father owns a multi-million business and he gets everything he wants at any time. Jared has money and power. Once he’s healed, I’ll ask him why. That’s if we make it outside alive without being ambushed.

Helping Jared, we make our way to the front door. I’m explaining my plan to him, but it doesn’t seem like he’s listening. Maybe he’s spaced out or something, but I need him to focus or he’ll get us both killed. 

“Jared, listen to me,” I say, waving my hand in front of his face. 

He shakes his head and looks in my direction, his eyes finally focused on just me. I finish explaining the plan to him, and he just nods, obviously ready to just get it over with. 

Once we reach the front door, he starts to pant as if the walk was the hardest thing he’s ever done. Honestly, I don’t know how much time he has left. 

His blood is staining my shirt, turning it red like his shirt has been for a while. His eye is getting worse, and I’m worried that he’ll end up going blind soon. I don’t want him to go blind because of me. This weird feeling in my stomach is making me sick. Is this what love feels like?

 

Chapter Six: Imboscata 

The Tesla’s doors open from the house. Looking at Jared, I’m starting to realize just how much he means to me. I can’t figure out what that “meaning” is just yet. Jared takes a deep breath, exaggerating his sigh a bit. He grabs my hand firmly, looking out at the car as he says, “We’re in this together. Besides, I can’t walk without you.” He says the last part with a slight chuckle. 

We calmly walk outside, making sure not to draw attention to ourselves. Attention is the last thing we need to attract right now. Jared is groaning and limping every step of the way, meanwhile, I’m trying to hold his heavy body up. I help him into the passenger side, being extra careful of his hyperextended wounds. The bleeding has stopped. I notice a sigh of relief escape from my lips.

Hurriedly, I get into the driver’s side. Afterward, I press the engine button, driving off as quickly as I possibly can. This is so nerve-wracking. The feeling of being watched takes my mind hostage. I don’t like this feeling at all, and it doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s just me being paranoid as usual, but this doesn’t feel right in any type of way. Jared isn’t feeling better, and it’s throwing me off track.

***

It’s getting late now. The sky is getting darker. The birds have all gone home to their nests. Meanwhile, I’m driving to another state to try and save the life of a man I potentially love. Jared’s pain is getting worse. He won’t stop groaning and moaning. Oh god, I hope he doesn’t throw up all over my brand new Tesla. Wait, that sounds so stuck up and horrible.

The feeling of being watched invades my body once more. Looking over at Jared, I signal for him to see if anyone is behind us. He slowly looks through the rearview mirror, the fear apparent in his eyes. As he turns back around and looks at me, his face is ever so pale. The fear in his eyes tells me the answer.

 

“They’re watching us, Vareena!” his voice shakes. 

 

This is bad. I’m scared. 

 

Forcefully, I press down on the gas pedal. How do I distract them? They need to be thrown off. We are almost to the Maryland border, and another hundred miles to the hospital. Jared is in serious pain, and the stress doesn’t help his condition at all. God, they showed no mercy on him. I’ve never seen someone in so much pain.

Just at that moment, a gunshot flies through the back window, barely missing Jared and me. This is what I feared.

 

Chapter Seven: Thrive

The bullet barely missed us. My ears start to ring. The shots keep coming until the back window is completely gone. All of a sudden, the tire pops, and the car is limping, but I’m still trying to drive it. I look over at Jared and see him panting heavily. He’s having a panic attack. He always gets these when he’s under a lot of stress, and this right now is a lot of stress. His inhaler isn’t with us. That’s the only way to tame his attacks.

Jared has asthma and he has stress-activated panic attacks. There’s nothing I can do right now. The car stops moving, and we come to an aggressive, painful stop. I look out the shattered back window and see two men completely covered in black walking towards the car. We need a plan now.

I feel Jared quickly shake my shoulder, his hands trembling with fear and discomfort. 

He then proceeds to say, “Are we going to die, Vareena?” His voice is drowned in fear and regret.

I don’t know what to say. I mean, we could die. One of the men comes up to the car as my eyes widen and nervousness shamelessly takes over my helpless body.

The mysterious man pulls out a gray-black colored pistol, pointing it straight at my head. My heart is making its new home down at my feet. 

“LJ wants to see both of you,” the man says.

“Why does he want to see us? We don’t even know this man.”

 “I’m sure that one right there knows. He’s made a deal with the devil and didn’t pay his way.” 

I look over at Jared, and see the other man pulling him harshly out of the car. I scream and try to stop the man from taking him, but before I can, the other man punches me in the face, completely knocking me out. The world goes blank and my thoughts exit my mind, except for one thing: Jared.

I wake up in a cold room that’s lit by what seems to be a thousand spotlights. As I’m slowly getting up, my head starts to throb and beat like my heart’s in my face. I gently stroke my face while letting out a soft hiss. I’ve never felt this pain before. It’s as if my head is on fire and being punched over and over again. Even though the room is lit, I can’t see Jared. I need to know where he is. Oh god, I hope they didn’t kill him. 

I’ve been sitting here for what seems like an eternity. There are no other voices but the ones in my head, and there’s no other sign of life. It’s just me and my voices arguing for who gets to speak. My wrists are tied together so tight that I can barely feel them. I try to get myself loose, struggling against the tight grip of the ties. All of a sudden, a man walks in and starts laughing hysterically at me. What have I done to become trapped by the city’s most dangerous mafia?

 

Chapter Eight: Terror

The room feels like it’s caving in on me. The man goes to another side of the room and harshly grabs a large object. For a moment, I think it’s a weapon, but the figure starts to groan in agony. The man pushes the figure towards me, and I now see that it’s Jared. Did they beat him up more? He looks so out of it. Jared grasps my leg and pulls himself towards me, but the man quickly snatches him back. I try to take hold of his hand, but the man slaps me across the face, leaving a stinging pain. Jared tries to stand up, but fails dramatically. 

The man finally speaks, “Where’s the rest of the money, Jared? You only paid half of it, and the boss doesn’t like being cheated out of anything, especially money.” What the man says leaves a confused expression on my face. 

What I’m hearing is that Jared used the trust funds to pay off his debt with Erebus. But the funds were well over $40,000, so how much could he possibly owe? 

“I’ll get your million dollars,” Jared says. “Let Vareena go. She doesn’t have anything to do with this,” his voice wavering.

“We’re not letting her go. The boss wants to have a word with her.” The man looks down at me and laughs.

“Don’t hurt her, or it’ll be the last thing you do. You must have no idea who her mother is, do you?” Jared exclaims.

“Trust me, we know exactly who her mother is. Her mother is the woman that got LJ’s father killed,” the man says, his voice stable and confident. 

Jared is at a loss for words and so am I. I want to scream at him, but I can’t find my voice. My mother was the one that got his father killed, not me! So why am I being punished for that monster’s wrongdoings? I can’t believe he owes them a million. He shouldn’t even have that much debt, even without the mafia affiliation. I’m so confused as to why he even got involved with Erebus.

LJ’s man leaves the room and doesn’t come back for a good ten minutes. Jared slowly comes towards me, hugging me as soon as he reaches me. I hold him tightly, embracing his presence.

“I’m so sorry, Vareena. I didn’t mean to get you involved in this situation of mine,” he says, obviously on the verge of tears.

“It’s okay. This is partly my mother’s fault for being involved with Erebus as well,” I say, my throat closing up at the mere mention of my mother.

“I know, it’s just that I didn’t know that it would blow out of proportion so fast, V.” 

“Just tell me one thing, Jared. Why do you owe over a million dollars to these people? Why would you do such a stupid thing?” My tone sounds more demanding than I intend it. 

He sighs before saying, “I had to pay off my father’s debt. He got involved with Erebus before he married my mother, and now I’m the one that has to help him.”

I look at him and shake my head in disbelief. Both of our parents were involved in such a serious thing, and now their children are dealing with the consequences. And they probably don’t have any idea.

 

Chapter Nine: Why does the mockingbird cry?

This day has been so chaotic. Jared and I are still hugging, but now he’s crying, and I’ll be joining him soon. Another man comes into the room and stares at us, laughing at how stupid we probably look right now. But, this isn’t the same man as before. This man’s laugh sounds more psychotic, like he’s enjoying seeing us like this. 

“We meet again, Jared,” he says, the psychotic tone staying in his voice.

Jared shudders and lets go of me. “Let her g–” Before he can even finish his sentence, the man kicks him in the mouth.

“Did I ask you to speak? I want to talk to the little lady here,” he laughs again, the sound making my chest tighten.

At that moment I realize that this “psychotic” man is LJ. He’s the only one who wanted to talk to me. He kicks Jared away and makes me stand by pulling my hair. I try to wiggle free of his touch, but to my dismay, I fail. As I’m trying to think of some “mastermind plan,” LJ looks at me and continues to laugh. 

“Your mother took what I loved the most.” His tone is scary and belittling. “Now, it’s my turn to have a little fun.”

I feel as if I’m not breathing and the room is closing in on me. I think, “Will he kill me? Will he have his comrades kill me? What’s going to happen to Jared?” All these thoughts run through my head, but then my mind becomes completely vacant.

I wake up tied to a wooden chair that has splinters going every which way. The rope on my wrists is too tight, and I feel like I’m being suffocated. I start to panic and cry as I come to a realization that I might just die right now.

At that moment, a man walks into the room but he almost seems to be worried by his body language. The man then says in a whisper, “I’m getting you out of here.” 

I look at the man with a shocked expression. “Why was he helping me if he works for LJ?” I wonder. 

I know this isn’t Jared because he has green eyes, and this man has light brown eyes. His are somewhat familiar, but I still can’t recognize who this man is.

The man quickly pulls out a Puukko knife, and I look at him as if he’s crazy, startled at the sudden appearance of the weapon.

“Relax,” he says. “I managed to knock a few of those men out, but we don’t have much time,” he says in a light, soft tone. 

I look at him. “Who are you? Why are you helping me?”

He stops what he’s doing and looks at me, “You really don’t remember me?”

Gulping hard, I shake my head “No I don’t.. Just tell me who you are already.”

He lets out a bitter-sweet laugh. “It’s me, Alex.”

I almost choke on my saliva. Alex?! What is he doing here? How the hell did he even know I was here. I thought he was going to be in Germany for at least a few more years. This can’t get any crazier.

 

Chapter Ten: Revisiting the Past

Alex is really here. It takes a moment for me to process that he’s standing here in front of me. He was supposed to be in Germany because he betrayed my mother. Alex was making deals with Pince Co. behind her back. She didn’t find out until he slipped up and ratted himself out. Apparently, he was planning to cut ties with our mother and he eventually start working for Kaleb. He cut all contact with everyone, including myself. 

He laughs more sweetly this time at my reaction, “Wow, my little sister didn’t miss me one bit? Ouch,” he says sarcastically. 

He cuts the rope from my wrists. He then bends down and cuts the rope from my ankles so that I can remove the tape from my mouth. 

I quickly get to my feet and smack the side of his head in a playful way before saying, “It doesn’t help that you were gone for seven years.”

I wrap one of my arms around his shoulder and smile, happy that he’s finally back. He wraps one of his arms around my waist and we walk towards what I assume was the way he came in.

“How did you even find me?” I say, curious as to how he knew LJ and his crew kidnapped me. 

“That’s not important right now,” he whispers. “We need to find Jared and get the hell out of here.” 

I nod and try to keep up with him. He always was a fast walker. We turn a corner and enter a long, dark hallway filled with so much debris that my lungs seem to be closing up. The sun peeks through the broken windows, almost blinding Alex and me. After we turn the last corner, a group of men start talking.

“Hey! That girl is gone!”

Another man then chimes in, “Shit, who was in charge of watching her?” 

Another man shakes his head, “It was me! But they said that a man with a black jacket on knocked Jerry and Carlos out.” 

Alex curses under his breath and turns back around, sitting me down in a dark corner. He paces back and forth as he tries to find a way out. He sits down next to me. “So, they know that you’re gone, and they know that I’m here.”

I sigh and put my head between my hands. “This is really bad, Alex! What are we going to do?”

He gets up and helps me. “Come on, Vareena, we can fight them off. Just act like it’s a game of Mortal Kombat.” 

Smiling, I nod and look around the corner just to see that the men are gone. We slowly turn the corner and begin to walk. All of a sudden, the sound of a bullet echoes through the hollow building. The first person that comes to my mind is Jared, but I look to the side and see that Alex has been shot. 

 

Chapter Eleven: When the Clock Hits Dawn 

Alex drops beside me, and I quickly follow him. He’s been shot in his upper thigh, and it’s horrific. He’s in so much pain that he’s rolling on the ground while holding his upper thigh. I rip off a piece of my shirt and tie it around his leg. The gunshots keep coming, and I hear men screaming to one another, “Get the girl! LJ wants the girl, you idiots!”

I help Alex up and start running. His constant groaning is making me feel even weaker. He got shot just to save me. What kind of sister let’s their brother get shot? I feel like it’s all my fault. They were trying to shoot me, but shot him instead. Alex continues to groan and breathe hard from the pain. He taps my shoulder and signals for me to stop up ahead at the upcoming vacant room. I nod and run faster, ignoring the weight of Alex. As we turn into the room, I gasp and almost drop Alex. Jared is in this room.

Jared looks up, obviously not expecting to have any company. I rest Alex against the wall next to Jared. I sit next to Jared and hug him, extremely happy that he’s still alive. He hugs back.

“I’m so glad that you’re okay,” he whispers into my ear. “I was worried that they had killed you.” I can tell he doesn’t want to let me go.

I smile a little and take his hand. “I can say the same for you. Alex somehow found me and came to help me, but they shot him instead of me.” I say the last part with instant regret.

He looks over at Alex. “Holy shit, I didn’t know Alex was already back. He got here faster than I expected.”

I look at him with a confused expression. “Wait, you were the one that called him? But, how did you even contact him?” 

He looks down, then back at me. “When LJ was talking to me, I took his phone. When he left, I called Alex because I knew our parents wouldn’t answer.”

I smile and softly kiss his cheek. I didn’t even know that he really knew who Alex was. 

It’s sad that our parents wouldn’t even answer us. They are always “busy,” but it helps to have other people to rely on. I will always have Alex, but Jared has just recently been added to my “trusted people list.” He’s starting to mean something to me, and I’m scared to lose him.

Jared looks at me and smiles. He’s beginning to see that I’m starting to trust him. He means the world to me. I wouldn’t call it love, but I just don’t have a word for it yet. The main thing right now is getting free and back to safety. I can tell that we’re not in the city, because it’s too unfamiliar and gloomy.

The only way to get out is to get past all of LJ’s guys. It’s dead silent now, and I don’t hear anything but birds chirping. The birds sound like they are happy. How can they be happy at times like these? How can they be happy, when all lives are at stake? It just makes me anxious hearing their cries of joy? I wish that I was a bird right now. Free. Careless.

Jared slowly stands up, groaning as he helps my big brother to his feet. He then says, “We can’t just sit here like stray dogs.” His tone is demanding. “We need to get out of here before LJ comes back any sooner.”

I nod before saying, “It’s dangerous though. They know that we’re still alive and they also know about Alex.” I am still confused as to how he got here. 

Jared curses under his breath and goes towards the concrete wall. He looks at the building that seems to be crumbling minute by minute. Jared takes my hand while I tightly hold onto Alex’s waist. 

Alex then mumbles, “Just leave me here.” He seems to be running out of breath. “I’ll be okay here. Trust me. I know my way around this building, unfortunately. I’ll go to the car and pull around front, and you two can make a run for it when I give the signal.”

I look at him, “Wait, what’s the signal? And how do you know about this place, Alex?”

He sighs, “I’ll explain it all later. The signal is going to be the car horn. As soon as I sound the alarm, come outside”.

“I can’t leave you here, Alex. Do you know that I need all of you alive and with me? I love you… and Jared.”    

Jared looks down at me and widens his beautiful green eyes. Is he sort of blushing? Wow, this just got really awkward. Why would I say that out loud? I laugh a little to lighten the heavy atmosphere. Alex just sighs and points towards the door, signaling for us to leave him there. I nod and help Jared towards the gloomy hallway. The sunlight is peaking through, which makes this look like a scene I’ve seen a thousand times in classic mafia movies. 

 

Chapter Thirteen: Playback

Jared and I are running for our lives. Jared is in really bad condition at this point. He has bloodstains all over his white collared shirt. He’s been wearing the same shirt for three days now. Yeah, we’ve been in this battle for three consecutive days. It’s hard to believe right? It’s unbelievable that we’ve been fighting for so long and have made such little progress.

We’ve been waiting for Alex’s signal for at least five minutes now. We found a hiding place, but it’s not going to last us too long. In the distance, there is no sign of life. It’s just completely quiet, and that’s never a good sign. 

All of a sudden, as if the devil himself heard my thoughts, a gunshot comes flying in our direction. The bullet lands straight on my right knee, and I gasp, quickly gripping my knee. I hold in my scream, and Jared holds me tighter as he mouths, ‘Sorry’.

Jared and I quickly run toward the nearest door we see. The door leads to a room that was once a space for patients. There are needles, masks, and liquid spilled all over the tile ground. Jared puts me down next to a wall out of the door’s sight. I scream and grip my knee, groaning as the pain worsens. Jared takes off his belt and wraps it around my knee. He grabs a bottle of peroxide that was on the ground and pours the cold liquid all over my wound. He then takes out his pocket knife and digs the bullet out of my knee. I scream so loud that the rats in the corner scurry away. I cover my mouth and try to hold in my pain. LJ can probably hear my screams of pain. I bet he’s laughing and searching for me right now. He’s an actual psychopath. Like father, like son.

Jared takes the bullet out and frantically searches for a first aid kit. I shout at him, “Right there, Jared!” as I point at a kit in a puddle of peroxide. He grabs the kit and opens it as he takes out the stitching equipment. He fiddles with the thread, trying to get it into the little hole at the top of the needle. He curses under his breath a few times before he gets it. I sigh ball up my fists as he slowly stitches up the wound. Has he done this before? He seems like he has done this before. It’s such a relief to have him here because if Alex were in this situation I’d probably die.

I watch as he wraps the gauze and bandage around my thigh. He sits next to me and doesn’t look me in my eyes. He’s taking responsibility for this whole ordeal, and now that I’ve been shot, it doesn’t make it any better. I don’t want him to feel as if it’s all his fault. I mean, he did get involved with the most dangerous gang in our city. He did give them all of our trust funds, and he still owes them more.

Jared helps me stand up and we limp together out of the room. The abandoned hospital has this strange smell of smoke and pennies. The smell makes my stomach twist and squeeze in discomfort. Jared wraps both of his arms around my waist, pulling me towards the exit. We almost reach the door. It’s right in front of me. All I need to do is run. Before I even reach the door, LJ pops out from behind the broken down door, pointing a gun straight at my head. 

“Don’t think you’ll be able to run forever,” he says. “Well, I guess mothers do act like their children.” 

Looks like today is my last day.

 

Chapter Fourteen: Locked and Loaded

I stand there, frozen in fear. LJ motions for Jared to let me go, but his grip on me only gets tighter.

“Come on! If you don’t want her to be killed right now, let her go!”

Jared hesitantly lets go of me. “You bastard! I’ll get you your money.”

LJ strikes him upside the head with his pistol, laughing as Jared hits the ground. 

Psychopath. I gasp and instantly fall to my knees, grabbing Jared’s bleeding head. I look up at LJ with tears in my eyes and anger filling my chest. 

“How much does he owe you?” I whisper. 

“Three million. That punk owes me three million.”

I look at him, confused “Why? What could he possibly need from you that is worth three million?”

LJ lets out an evil laugh. “His mother. His dead mother’s debt still hasn’t been paid off. That’s why she was killed in the first place. Soon, her precious son will be joining her.”

This man is sick. He’s making Jared pay off his mother’s debt. But, I’m still confused. Jared’s mother was a multi-billionaire and had no reason to borrow money from Erebus. Valery was so successful and powerful. 

I remember the day she died. That was the day my mother wanted to partner with Pine Co., back when Valery was the head of the company. Then all of a sudden, her face was on the news. They said they found her body in a boat overseas in HongKong. Jared’s father didn’t seem to be too sad or too happy. He just took over the company and moved on. 

To be honest, Jared’s father didn’t seem to care that she died. It was almost like he was excited that it was his turn to finally shine. I don’t want to assume anything horrific or completely messed up, but I think Kaleb had something to do with Valery’s death. They seemed to love each other but, you never know what happens behind closed doors. Their family life always seemed kind of like a Barbie movie. Fake and perfect.

 

Chapter Fifteen: Dirty Lies 

Jared wakes up after a few hours. Alex still hasn’t given us the signal, and I’m getting worried. They might have killed him before he even left the building. I look at LJ, who’s standing there and laughing at the sight of Jared and I both being hurt. He taps the revolver against the side of his head.

“Valery. Valery was such a dumb woman. She craved for money and power. I was surprised when she bribed me into handling her dirty business. She always ran to me when she needed someone to clean up after her. That’s how her debt grew over the years.”

“Why are you hurting Jared because of his mother? He didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“She told me to make him pay it off. She said that Kaleb wouldn’t do anything when she died. But, he did help a lot with her death.” An evil smirk drags across his ugly features. 

“What do you mean?” I ask, trying to pry at an answer.

“Oh, you didn’t know? Kaleb killed her and chose where she was laid to rest.” He starts laughing and twirling the cylinder of the gun around his crooked, dirty fingers.

I look at Jared who’s been awake for a while now. He slowly stands up, his eyes watering. Standing in front of LJ, he clenches his jaw in anger and sadness. Jared slaps LJ across his face. The gun falls out of LJ’s hands.

I pick it up, holding it at his face. Jared punches LJ in the face, making him fall on the ground. I pull Jared back and gesture at the gun. Jared nods as I point the gun at LJ’s head. 

“Shoot him! Do it now!”  Jared yells at me. 

I hesitate. I’ve never killed a man before. This could ruin my whole life if the police find out. LJ’s laying on the ground, laughing as usual. This man is a literal psychopath. Why does he laugh when he could die right now? He has blood coming from the corners of his mouth, and he looks awful.

Just then, sirens start wailing. They’re coming in our direction. When did they get here? If they catch me with a gun in my hand, then I’m done for. 

 

Chapter Sixteen: The Last Straw 

We hear the sirens getting closer and closer. They are a little ways away. We don’t have much time. I hold the gun up to LJ’s head and pull the trigger. I turn my head as soon as I let go of the trigger. But, no bullets fly out and no sound echoes the room. Jared panics and grabs the gun, trying to shoot it over and over but nothing leaves the gun. 

LJ stands up and laughs, “Did you think I’d let you kill me?” 

He shows the bullets in his hand, but how did he get them so fast? He’s a professional murderer. This man continues to surprise me with his psychopathic strategies. Jared punches LJ in the face as the bullets fall out of his hand. I quickly grab the bullets and load the gun. The sirens are getting closer and closer. 

Jared and LJ punch at one another. Jared throws LJ on the ground, and I pull the trigger. I shoot LJ in his chest. Throwing the gun, I quickly run over to Jared and help him up. 

“We have to go,” I say to him. 

Jared looks at LJ’s dead body before saying, “I hear the sirens are close! Let’s go!” 

I nod and look at him. “I just killed a man, Jared.”

He sighs and wraps his arms around my waist. We run towards the door, going toward Alex’s car. I get into the driver’s seat, scrambling to find the car keys. Jared finds them sitting on the dashboard. I start the car, then stop. I remember that Alex was here with us. 

I look at Jared. “Alex! Where’s Alex?! He was supposed to be here..”

“There’s no time! The police are back there.”

“That’s my brother, Jared! We can’t just leave him.”

“We’ll die if we stay here! You just killed a man for Christ’s sake!” 

I sigh and let a tear escape my eye. They killed my brother, and now there’s no time to go look for him. I press on the gas and drive off into the forest. Through my mirror, I see the police pull up to the scene. They are looking around for us, but they are too late. 

This whole journey has turned my life upside down, and I’m scared. I haven’t seen my mother in three days. Is she even worried about me at all? 

My phone is dead and completely broken. No one has probably even called to see where I am. 

I step harder and harder on the gas, trying to get further away from the abandoned hospital. We’re still not safe from any of this.

 

Jaela Berry is a student at Northwest High School.

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