Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 01
David B. Coe
They’re close, and getting closer by the minute. She’s made a mistake by coming inside. The drive-through; that would have been safest, the best way to get food in the kids and return to the interstate before any of the powers pursuing them took notice.
Gracie scans the restaurant, her gaze skipping over garish plastic fixtures of red and yellow, seeking out faces, searching for the tell-tale blur of features. Not here yet. They may be near, but there’s still time.
“Mommy, I have t’go potty.”
Panic rises in her heart, and her hands start to shake. Emmy stares back at her, dark eyes framed by dark hair in a face that is warm brown and oval like Gracie’s. Her burger is mostly gone, but she’s taken only a sip or two of her cola. Smart girl.
Zach’s eyes, hazel like his father’s, roam the restaurant, his mouth full of fried, processed chicken. His Sprite is gone. A trip to the bathroom now won’t forestall the need for another thirty minutes down the road.
She wants to scream, to sob. But she stands and holds out her hands, a mom to the very end.
“Come on, then,” she says. “But when we’re done we have to get back in the car, understand?”
Emmy nods, wide-eyed and solemn. She does understand. Too well.
“I want d’sert,” Zach says.
Emmy shakes her head. “Not now, Zach.”
His expression darkens, brows gathering like storm clouds. So much like his father.
“We’ll have to stop for gas in a while,” Gracie says. “We’ll get you candy then.”
She leads them to the ladies’ room — two stalls, and one is taken. She waits while they go, and then, begrudging the time, but hoping against hope they can somehow escape another stop for an hour or two, takes a turn herself. She can hear Emmy coaching her brother on how to wash his hands. They giggle at something, and tears well in her eyes.
It shouldn’t be like this.
She finishes, joins them at the sink. Zach has drops of water on his nose and chin and forehead. They both wear impish grins.
“All right, you two,” Gracie says with mock severity. “Time to get going.”
Emmy’s smile slips, and all color drains from her cheeks. “Mommy . . .”
“Who is?” Zach asks, looking from his sister to Gracie. “Daddy?”
God, no. Don’t let Neil be with them. That would be too much for the kids, not to mention what it would do to her.
“Where are they, sweetie?”
Emmy chews her lip before pointing toward the back wall of the restroom. It takes Gracie a moment to orient herself, but when she does, she sags. Of course. Precisely where the van is parked.
The van, which has all their belongings, and which, to those tracking them, probably lights up the desert sky with magic.
“I wanna see Daddy.”
“Daddy’s not with them, goober.”
“I am not a goober!”
“Are you sure, Emmy? You don’t feel Daddy at all?”
She shakes her head.
“Mommy, tell her I’m not a goober!”
“Don’t call him that, okay?”
Gracie stares at the tiled wall, ignores Zach when he sticks his tongue out at his sister.
All their things. But aside from the booster seats, how much do they really need? And after all, can’t they drive some distance without the boosters?
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” she says. “We’ll go out the door that’s right by the potty, and then . . . then we’re going to drive a different car out of here.”
Emmy’s eyes widen. “We’re going to steal a car?”
“We’re going to borrow one.”
“What about Zeeber?” Zach asks. “And my blankie?”
“You don’t have Zeeber?” Gracie asks, voice rising.
He shakes his head. “You always tell me not to bring him to rest’rants, ’cause I’ll get food on him.”
Gracie exhales through her teeth and rakes a rigid hand through her hair. Zeeber and that stupid blankie. She knows he’s right: She hates it when he brings that stuffed zebra into restaurants. But she wants to shake him and ask why he chose this time to listen. The blanket she might be able to replace, but Zeeber . . . Zach’s had it since his infancy, and even if this one could be replaced, she wouldn’t know where to find another. She’s never seen a stuffed zebra like it. It’s a damn miracle that he didn’t drag it into the restaurant with them. A miracle that could get them all killed. Or worse.
A transporting spell might work, but the men who are after them will feel the magic. They would only have one chance at this.
“We can find you another blankie –”
“No!” His voice echoes off the bathroom walls. “No, no, no, no!”
She puts her hands on his shoulders. “All right, all right. Quiet down.” Too late she realizes that there is still someone in the other stall. Stealing the car would have been a bad choice anyway, but that leaves them with few options.
“Okay.” She straightens, squares her shoulders. “Stay close to me. Do exactly as I say.”
“What are we going to do?” Emmy asks.
“We’re going to get in the van and drive away.”
Emmy gives her best “whatever you say, Mom” eye roll, but she keeps her mouth shut, which Gracie appreciates.