He got into the car and sat in the driver’s seat. Pulling the hood down on his hoodie, he reached into the side pocket of his well-worn brown leather jacket. It was a warm afternoon for late October and wearing both the hoodie and jacket was making him hot, but he didn’t want to walk around with the hood down, not now. He took the items out of his pocket and looked at them: a U.S. passport and an Alabama driver’s license. The name on the license read, “Riley Hopwood”. “I’m now Riley Hopwood,” he said out loud. What a fucking stupid name, he thought to himself. He examined the license and passport closely and decided that they looked pretty good for being made at such short notice.
Riley put the license and passport back into his jacket pocket and took out his cellphone. It was switched off. He sat there staring at it, trying to decide if he should throw it out the car window. He had bought it from Paul some time ago, second-hand, as a backup phone. Paul was one of only two people he could call a friend, the other being Charles. All three had gone to the same high school together. Even though ten years had passed since high school graduation, they regularly kept in contact, mostly via the internet and mostly because of their shared enthusiasm for all things tech-related. Occasionally, all three of them would play online games together.
Riley had already carried out a factory reset on the cellphone and had a new, never-before-used SIM card, but he was worried that maybe, somehow, they could still trace it. Maybe they would speak to Paul and work out that he had the phone and trace it. No, he thought, they’re not that good. It would be a waste. He switched on the phone and set up an account using ‘riley.hopwood90’ as his username, then downloaded a navigation app and set the destination as Niagara Falls. The app showed him a route and stated the estimated journey time as nine hours from his current location in Richmond, Virginia. His plan was to drive to Niagara Falls, dump the car, and cross the Rainbow Bridge into Canada on foot. He had some online contacts that claimed to be from Toronto, and he would try to get in touch with them once he got across the border. That was as far as his plan went. It was the best he could come up with.
He was nervous about the nine-hour drive. He was using a car registered in someone else’s name with Virginia plates, and he had an Alabama driver’s license. If stopped, he could claim he had borrowed the car from a friend, which was actually true. Charles had let him take the car, albeit indirectly, but then Charles might be charged with aiding and abetting because Riley’s face had been all over the national news. He was a fugitive, and there was no way that Charles could claim he didn’t know he was lending a car to a wanted man. After Riley had gone on the run, he had contacted his friend via a games chat room that he knew Charles frequented. Riley had accessed a restaurant’s free public Wi-Fi by sitting outside of the building and using his laptop. He knew that the chat room was on a private server that didn’t keep logs, so there would be no records kept of what they said. As soon as they both logged off, the chat history would be gone forever.
In the chat, Riley had explained his situation. Riley wasn’t sure if Charles had believed his version of events, but he had agreed to help. Charles would drive to visit his parents for the weekend, along with his girlfriend, in her car. He would leave his garage door down but unlocked, leave the car key on the workbench in the garage, and report his car stolen upon his return. When Riley asked what he would tell his girlfriend or parents about why he was visiting or using his girlfriend’s car, Charles had told him not to worry and that he’d work it out. Riley considered the possibility that maybe it was a trap, maybe the police would be waiting for him at Charles’s house, but when he got there, everything was exactly as Charles had said it would be. Riley’s heart was racing when he removed the car from the garage—maybe a neighbor would see him and report a stranger—but the neighborhood was quiet and he didn’t see anyone, so he thought that probably no-one had seen him.
Riley had collected the car on Friday night, both because he knew Charles would have left home by then, and also to minimize the chances of being seen. It was now Saturday afternoon, and he had just collected the fake license and passport from an online acquaintance he had done business with before. He knew that he had until late Sunday afternoon to ditch the car before it was reported stolen. It was a big risk collecting the IDs, but he felt he had no choice. The acquaintance, who had the online screen name MajesticHaxT3r, was surprisingly happy to help for the right amount of bitcoin. Riley had contacted him online via the Tor Network, which enables anonymous communication. This was how they always made contact. In the past they had exchanged computer hacking software, password lists, and all sorts of questionable computer data and code, until a relationship of sorts was built where they could trust each other enough to meet in person. Their few meetings were not, however, for the sake of friendship. They met to exchange bitcoin for fake IDs that Riley would sell on, or for acquiring hacking and other software that was too large to send efficiently over the Tor Network. It was ironic that the person he was now, Riley Hopwood, was a result of the same type of fake IDs he’d once used to buy and sell.
Why MajesticHaxT3r had no problems providing fake IDs to a wanted man who had been all over the news for the past week, Riley did not know. His character was such that Riley guessed he probably did not pay much, if any, attention to the mainstream news and probably rarely left his apartment. The photographs the national news programs had shown of Riley were pretty old, and MajesticHaxT3r didn’t know Riley’s real name, only his screen name. Even if he had seen something on the news, perhaps he simply hadn’t put two and two together.
Riley put the key into the car’s ignition and turned it. Other than Charles’s car and the clothes he wore, the grand sum of Riley’s worldly possessions now consisted of his cellphone, laptop, fake IDs, and 3,462 dollars in cash in a small tattered backpack, along with his intangible plan to cross into Canada.
Riley had been driving for some time and was making good progress on the route north, but he was now hungry and tired. Every time he saw a police car, his heart began to race. At one point in the journey, the traffic had narrowed down to one lane, and he could see flashing blue lights up ahead. He was sure it was the police conducting some sort of roadside check. He thought about ditching Charles’s car by the roadside in order to avoid them, but knew he wouldn’t get very far on foot. When he got closer to the flashing lights, he realized that it was just a traffic accident. The navigation app on his phone would have informed him of this, but he had exited it to conserve the phone’s battery since he didn’t have a charging cable. He would reactivate the app periodically to make sure he was still going in the right direction.
For the past week, Riley hadn’t bathed and had been sleeping in abandoned buildings. He needed food, gas for the car, rest, and a shower. He looked down at his cellphone, sat on the passenger seat of his car, and double-tapped it to activate the screen. It was 6:26 p.m. The sun was setting as he approached the town of Bedford in Pennsylvania on the U.S. 30 highway. The road ahead was clear with no cars to be seen. After some minutes passed, he saw a sign for Bedford and decided to exit the highway. As he merged onto East Pitt Street, he sensed his eyelids getting heavy. He looked down at his phone and double-tapped on its screen again. The time was now 6:38 p.m.
As soon as the screen displayed the time, and before Riley had a chance to look up, he saw a huge, extremely bright white flash in his peripheral vision, accompanied by a loud whooshing sound. He glanced up as fast as his instincts allowed, in time to see something smash into the hood and windshield of Charles’s car with a loud boom and then roll over the top of the vehicle. He applied the brakes as hard as he could, the car swerving from side to side as it came to a halt on the right edge of the road. “Holy shit!” he said out loud.
Riley got out of the car and looked back down the road. Something was laying on the ground about 40 feet away from him. His heart began to race again as he hurried over to it. As he approached, he saw that it appeared to be a person. Panic set into his body. He could hear the blood pumping in his ears. His first instinct was to turn around and get back into the car and drive off, but he quickly reconsidered. Leaving this person in the middle of the road could increase his chances of being caught, he thought, what with the damage evident to the front of Charles’s car. He got closer to the figure laying on the ground. “Holy fucking shit!” he said again as he looked down on what appeared to be the figure of a young girl, maybe 14 to 17 years of age. She appeared to have some heavy costume makeup on her face and was dressed in what Riley guessed to be some sort of Halloween costume. It was late October, after all. He couldn’t see any blood and didn’t know if she was alive, but he had to be quick because he knew that if a car passed now and saw the scene, his arrest would surely follow.
Riley bent down, picked her up, and hurried back to the car. She was small and light, easy to carry. Her costume appeared to have elaborately made, butterfly-like wings folded down against her back. He raised one leg to help support her weight and used the fingertips of his right hand to open one of the car’s back doors. Once she was lying down on the back seats, he closed the door and rushed to the front of the car to check the damage done to it. There was a large, circular, spiderweb-like smash pattern indented on the passenger side of the windshield, and a slight indentation on the hood just below it. The rest of the car looked fine.
Riley got back into the car and drove off. What am I going to do now! he thought. Those words kept repeating in his head.
Riley placed the girl down onto the motel bed and looked at her. He wasn’t sure if he had gotten away with not being seen. He had parked the car as close to the room as possible, with its front facing some bushes to minimize the chances of someone seeing the damage. The motel attendant didn’t seem too interested in him as he paid and presented his fake license, speaking in his best Alabama accent. He hadn’t seen any surveillance cameras in the motel lobby and he didn’t think anyone had spotted him carrying the girl from the car to the room, so perhaps he had gotten away with it so far.
She had what appeared to be intricate face paint applied to her whole face and neck, and fake-looking slightly pointy ears. The paint was a mottled beige, off-black and yellow pattern. Her hands had the same color pattern applied to them, and she had short hair, dyed bright purple. Her eyebrows were also colored purple. Her cheekbones were prominent and her fingers long and slender with black painted nails at the ends. The costume was very elaborate and looked well-made. It was black in color, other than the fluorescent blue highlights, and felt rubbery to the touch. He couldn’t tell what she was meant to be dressed as. He thought she looked like a cross between a scuba diver, a motorbike rider, and a fairy. It was a very odd-looking costume, he thought. He couldn’t see any obvious signs of injury on her, perhaps due to her makeup, but her costume didn’t even appear to be damaged. He decided that that was probably a good sign.
“What the hell were you doing in the middle of the road?” Riley mumbled to himself, putting two fingers on her neck, checking for a pulse. He couldn’t feel anything. He put his fingers under her nostrils. She was definitely breathing.
Suddenly she opened her eyes. Her eyeballs were black with bright red irises and large black pupils. Riley jumped back in shock. The girl sat up with extreme speed, extended her arm towards Riley with her hand up and palm facing him, and screeched something. As she did so, Riley felt himself fly backward as if he had been kicked in the chest. He hit the back wall of the room and slumped to the ground. He looked up to see the girl standing over him with her arm still extended. She started speaking to him in a language he didn’t understand. Overwhelmed, Riley felt his vision blur and then everything faded to black.
Riley opened his eyes. He was still sitting in the same position slumped on the floor. He could hear a humming sound and could see the girl now sitting on the bed, apparently looking at his laptop. He tried to move but his legs and arms felt paralyzed. He let out a groan, and the girl turned to look at him with her piercing red eyes. She began to tap onto her right forearm with the tips of her left hand as if touch typing. The humming sound stopped and Riley felt that he could now move his limbs.
“Can you understand me?” the girl said still looking at Riley. The pattern of her speech sounded unusual. Riley was terrified. She wasn’t in a Halloween costume at all. Whatever she was, she was real.
“Yes,” he finally answered. The girl began to type onto her forearm again. Riley watched as her skin, eyes, and hair slowly changed color. Her hair turned a light brown, her eyes became human-like with green irises, and her skin turned a pale human tone. Her ears also appeared to lose a little of their pointiness. Riley sat still, staring in amazement.
“Is that better?” she asked. Riley didn’t reply, so she continued. “Why did you bring me here? What is this place?” Her speech still had an unusual rhythm to it.
“I accidentally hit you with my car, and I brought you to this motel room to check if you were okay,” Riley replied a little hesitantly.
“You struck me with your transportation vehicle and then brought me to an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short-term basis to check the status of my health?” she said. Riley was silent for a few seconds and then replied.
“Yes,” he said.
The girl stood up from the bed and began to head towards the front door. As she did so, there came a loud crunching sound and the front door flew open, with bits of wood from the door flying into the room. Police in tactical gear, one with a battering ram, had just smashed it down and were storming inside.
Someone began to shout, “Police! Don’t move! Stay where…” The girl pressed something on her forearm. A whooshing sound followed and then a buzzing filled the room. Riley looked on in amazement as the air in the room began shimmering, just like air shimmering above a hot road in the summertime. The fluorescent blue highlights on the suit the girl was wearing were no longer visible, and instead, thin pulses of green light ran up and down its surface. The police entering the room seemed to now be moving so slowly that it was like watching them in extreme slow motion. The girl turned to face Riley.
“Who are they, and what do they want?” she asked in the same flat, unrhythmic tone.
“They’re police, and they want me for something I didn’t actually do! I don’t know how they found me!” Riley said in a panicked and hurried voice. The girl turned back towards the door and casually began to walk out of the room, carefully stepping around each policeman as she did so.
“Wait!” Riley called. He stood up and followed her, bumping into a couple of the slow-moving policemen as he hurried. She was typing onto her forearm again as Riley caught up to her just outside of the motel room. Outside were at least half a dozen police cars and scores of police. Everything past a certain distance looked as if it was shimmering, and it was difficult to tell if the police were actually moving at all.
“Holy shit. This is insane.” He turned to the girl who was still typing onto her forearm. “Wait. Wait... Where are you going?”
“I am leaving. I require energy,” the girl said, looking up at him.
“I can help you,” Riley said. “Take me with you. I can get you energy.” He didn’t know what she was talking about or even what he was saying, but he didn’t want to be left behind when she went, in case the police went back to moving at normal speed. The girl looked at him for a couple of seconds before replying.
“This is wasting energy and time. Where is your transportation vehicle?”
“It’s there, over there,” Riley said pointing at it.
“Take me to Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.”
Riley took his cellphone out of his pants pocket and punched the destination into the navigation app. It was less than 3 hours’ drive away. They got into Charles’s car and Riley drove out of the motel parking lot, scraping along one of the police cars that was partially blocking their exit as he did so. After about 45 seconds of driving, the pulses of green light running up and down the girl’s suit faded out, and the static blue highlights faded back in.
They sat in silence, driving, for about half an hour before Riley said something.
“Where are you from?”
“You are unlikely to comprehend where I am from. I do not have sufficient data to extrapolate a path between where I am from and where I am now, or how exactly I came to be here. My instrumentation is running low on energy and is unable to function at full capacity. I must acquire energy to process the data and attempt to return to the place that I am from. Do not speak to me further. I shall inform you in the unlikely event I need your assistance again. Just get me to Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in the shortest amount of time possible with this mode of transportation,” the girl replied.
“Okay…” Riley said. “Just one more question, what is your name?” The girl turned her head and looked at him with a blank expression. She then turned her head away again without answering.
“Right,” Riley said, out loud but under his breath, “I’ll call you Pixie. You kind of look like a pixie.” Pixie did not respond or look at Riley.
Riley paced up and down in the control room of the power station. They had been in there for over an hour. They had been able to enter the facility with relative ease. Upon arrival, Pixie had simply walked in, her suit pulsing and streaking with green light, faster and brighter than it had before. Any attempts to stop her seemed futile. Guards or personnel that got too close were blown backward with the motion of her extending arm and open palm. Riley had instinctively followed her as she entered the building, walking only a few feet behind her. Anyone attempting to grab him was also somehow repelled. Locked doors posed no challenge and either bowed inwards before cracking open or shattered immediately as Pixie approached them. At one point, security began firing on them, to Riley’s alarm, but the bullets seemed to stop in midair a dozen or so feet