Average Joe Sample Chapters

Chapter 0

The Strange Woman and the Stadium

Under the cover of a dark and balmy Floridian night, the woman—clad in all black—carefully snuck around the building and up the stairs to the west entrance of the local college football stadium.  Though she had better means of sneaking into the place, she chose to use her handy-dandy lockpick to open the locked gate.  It wasn’t like she was breaking into some high tech security system—that would come later she suspected.  She eyeballed around for any more security, but she knew the closest one to her was three minutes away, around the corner and he would only be making his way back in another minute.  She had timed him close to a hundred times.  She allotted herself too much time, because she unlocked and quietly raised the gate in less than a minute.  Once on the other side of it, she lowered the gate and faced the glass door to the stadiums inside.  She quickly picked that lock too and was finally inside the stadium with no one any wiser.

There were only a few cameras on the inside and she knew where each of them were thanks to her daytime strolls here when they had games.  She avoided those expertly and scoped out the local security.  For it to be such a ghost town outside, she found the inside heavily guarded tonight.  It wasn’t Fort Knox, but for a college football stadium there was a lot of organized covert activity here and the woman wanted to know why.  The black cap she wore hid her mass of long black hair and she began to sweat because of it.  Tonight it felt like they had neglected to turn on the AC for the massive indoor stadium.  She slid along the walls and waited for a chance to get a good look at the uniforms of the security officers who worked inside.  One passed by as she crouched in the shadows near an unlit vending station.  He was a brawny man with beady eyes, a square jaw, and short brown hair.  His uniform had padded cobalt pants and a thick protective cobalt vest along with a navy shirt.  He wore black calf-length combat boots and black cut-off leather gloves.  Across his vest read the words W-Sec which she knew stood for West Sector, a local security firm.  As the man passed right by her obliviously, she memorized his attire.

Perfect, now I can replicate it.

With the perfected memory of his clothes in her mind, she willed her own clothes to match his with a crafte.  Her blacks became cobalt and navy and now her cap bore the words W-Sec as well.  The fabrics from each matched the security guard’s outfit to the touch or at least what she imagined it to feel like.  She rose from the shadows and walked at a safe distance behind the man who’d just passed.  He was heading in the direction she wanted to go, towards the freight elevator.  The only way she’d get access to that thing is if she was a member of security.  She’d finally gotten her clearance card the other night, but now she looked the part too so it should’ve been a lot easier if not for all this traffic tonight.  There was security in the stands sweeping their flashlights around and even more personnel down on the field.

She looked down the hall and saw that there was a huge commotion near the freight elevator so she chanced a detour up the stadium stairs to the second level.  She had seen a few female security officers a few nights ago so she hoped that she didn’t stand out too much on this night.  She looked over to her right and began to worry a little when one older man about thirty-five feet away stared at her.  When she neared closer to the second level entrance, he turned his gaze back to the field.

She sighed and looked around.  She saw no one immediately near her and opted to cast a crafte on her eyes that allowed her to see the Life Force auras of the people around her.  Through the walls she saw the blue glows of the men and the red glows of the few women that guarded the stadium.  Tonight there were about forty of these people active around the stadium.  Under the stadium, where she needed to go, were about a hundred more, as she had expected.  But luckily now she was alone aside from the crazy girl immediately down the hall near the rails.  Not far from the girl was an unconscious guard.

The women eyed each other warily, but they knew they had met before.  The girl’s isolation, blonde hair, and the way she was keeping a close eye on the guards below had tipped the black haired woman off despite the fact that they were wearing identical W-Sec uniforms.  The girl didn’t get her uniform from the nearby unconscious guard since he was still wearing his, so she must’ve knocked out another one.  The brunette silently prowled over to the girl and scowled at her.  She whispered her disdain for the situation.

Brunette: “I need you to leave.  You’re going to mess up all my plans tonight.”

The blonde girl simply grimaced, narrowing her light brown almond shaped eyes even more and continued looking down at the guards below.

Blonde: “I don’t care about your petty plans.  I have something more important going on tonight.  Someone’s life could be on the line.”

The dark haired woman silently considered that and looked at the security officers below.  They all surrounded the elevator that she so desperately wanted to get to tonight.  She knew that the elevator would lead her to the clues that she needed.  Clues about herself and her past, clues leading to her future.  All she could do now was wait.

With a thought, she once again activated her detection crafte.  The women were still in the clear since everyone was far off, but below them a large group of men, women, and a few boys and girls with lighter auras were being led up to the stadium’s back entrance.  Strangely enough, one of the children seemed to possess a silver aura, a sign of one who was in defiance of the Thread of Life.  It was an extremely rare aura.  That piqued the brunette’s interest.  Once they got close enough, she turned her detection crafte off and simply observed the huge group being brought into the stadium.  They were all in a miserable and shabby state.  Most wore dirty clothes that were either too big or too small, but every single one of them looked to be in pain, except for one girl.  As soon as she saw the group, the blonde girl gripped the rail tight and whispered under her breath.

Blonde: “It’s her!  It’s Melissa!”

The brunette woman barely heard her, only figuring out what she said by reading her lips.  She continued to watch her body language closely.  The blonde looked frantic as she surveyed the situation below her.  The group of people were being escorted into the elevator.  The blonde suddenly stood up as the kid with the silver aura, a dark-skinned little girl with almost no hair, was almost at the elevator doors.  She looked ready to leap down and attempt a rescue, but the fool had no idea how outmatched she was, or perhaps she just didn’t care.

The brunette quickly went over to her and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.  The blonde girl looked offended.  The brunette felt the blonde’s body shaking before her hand was brushed away.  She whispered into her ear.

Brunette: “I know you want to help, but look at the situation.  Getting captured here tonight will only hurt their chances of getting some real help.  Let’s just get out of here for tonight.  There’s nothing else we can do right now anyway.  You go back the way you came and I’ll do the same.”

The girl considered her words and they both watched as the last little girl, Melissa, was escorted into the elevator.  After that the elevator went to parts unknown and the guards surrounding the elevator dispersed.  The brunette knew it was too hot to use it tonight and once she saw the blonde girl go down the hall, she opted to return later, hopefully alone on a quiet night.

Once back safely on the outside, she spotted the old detective that the girl was working with parked a few blocks down in a black car.  He was looking at the stadium from behind a pair of binoculars.  He put them down once he saw her approaching.

Borland: “What do you want?”

Brunette: “You should call your girl off.  She almost made a fatal mistake tonight.  If she isn’t more careful, she’ll get captured.”

Borland: “I’ll worry about her.  You just worry about yourself and finding a new hobby besides breaking and entering.”

Brunette: “Well, you’re one to talk.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.”

She took her leave of the detective and walked a few more blocks over to her motorbike.  With a thought and keen imagination, her security uniform transformed into a peach blouse and blue jeans, which fit her quite nicely.  With another thought, her hat disappeared completely and she let her long black hair fall down in curls around her shoulders before she gathered it all to her back and put on her helmet, which looked like a guardian owl.  She would have to come back another night to get what she really wanted.  She just hoped that the blonde girl wouldn’t do anything stupid before then.

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Chapter 1

Fun at the Game

The day was hot and the crowd rowdy and rambunctious.  Everyone was getting riled up for today’s statewide collegiate football match where the state favorites, the Sunshine City Fowlers, would take on the underdogs, the Orangetown Pickers.  Joe and his girlfriend Kate, along with her little brother, Mod, had predicted a bloodbath today between the two rival teams and their rabid fans.  Too bad for now the line had stalled.

Joe: “This line is crazy long.”

Mod: “I know, right!  Did they even open the doors yet?”

Kate: “Well if you chill out a little, you can see that the line is moving even if it’s just a little.”

The three teens were here to support their hometown team, the Pickers.  High school juniors Joe and Kate were set on going to Orangetown University.  Neither had even considered the alternatives.  Joe himself didn't have any bright prospects when it came to choosing his college, but Kate on the other hand had many schools to choose from.  In the end she chose with her heart and decided to stay with Joe.

The line had finally started to move, but everyone was still pretty antsy.  The game was set to start in only thirty minutes.

Mod: “Finally!  This thing is moving!  It must be because you opened your mouth, Kate.  Forgot your toothbrush this morning huh?”

Kate: “No, it’s because of the stink coming from your clothes.  Have you even showered this week?  Wait—don’t answer.  We already know the answer anyway.”

As always the red-haired siblings couldn’t help but fuss at one another.  Several moments later Mod stopped arguing with his sister just long enough to lean over to Joe.

Mod: “Hey, Joe, I brought some game boosters.”

Mod smiled a devilish smile that lasted longer than it should have.  He pulled off his backpack, took out a bright red insulated cooler bag, opened it, and showed its contents to his shocked sister and Joe.

Kate: “How did you get that?”

Kate looked at her fourteen year old brother with alarmed blue eyes. His smile was plastered on his face as he stared her down with his green eyes, so she knew he had something planned. She waited for his explanation of some half-brained scheme.

Mod: “The how is unimportant, dear sister, at least when it comes to the where.  A different how should be asked.”

Mod smiled over towards where Joe was absentmindedly standing, and repeated himself a bit louder after delivering an elbow to Joe’s side.

Mod: “A different how should be asked!”

Joe snapped to attention and responded.

Joe: “As in how we’re going to get it in there with all that security.”

Mod: “And the answer to that, my dear sister, is you.”

Kate: “Why do I feel as if this i­s going to make me feel so stupid?”

The crowd started to move forward faster, the group’s shady acts cleverly hidden from the security staff.  No one could really see what they were doing with all the secrecy.  When the line paused again Joe stood in front of the two to block what they were doing.  Mod took what looked like an albino baby seal and a gray sweatshirt from his backpack and stuffed the cooler bag and his backpack into the weird seal looking thing.  He attached it to Kate and hid it under the sweatshirt that he had also hidden in his backpack.

Kate: "Did you get this sweater from Grandma?"

Mod: "Nah, it's one of Dad's old sweaters."

Kate: “Little idiot brother of mine, who the heck wears a sweater in Florida, especially on a night like tonight?”

Mod: “Crazy people, Kate.  We both know that you don’t need much acting skill to pull that off.”
The weird thing wrapped around Kate wasn't really an albino baby seal, as that would be a ridiculous and smelly thing to attach to someone, even more ridiculous than a regularly pigmented seal. Mod had really attached a fake pregnancy belly to his sister.

Mod: “Okay now act natural, sis.”

Kate scoffed at the notion.

Kate: “Act as if I’m pregnant?  You jerk, that’s not even funny.”

Mod: “With the rate at which you and Joe have been going, I’ll be able to say that with a straight face a few months from now.”

Kate and Joe both blushed.

Kate: “You’re lucky I don’t slap you.”

Uncomfortable conversations aside, the line was moving full speed ahead and Joe’s group was finally nearing the front doors of the stadium.  The closer they got to security, the more nervous they all became.  It was difficult to tell if Kate’s sea of sweat had formed because of her nervousness or the hot fake belly and sweatshirt combo that she now had to wear over her clothes.  It was probably a combination of all of that.

At the front of the line, Joe went towards the doors, but was pushed back by a large man the size of a pro-wrestler, wearing a red t-shirt.  Kate looked at him with rising fear in her eyes and a growing knot in her stomach.  The large man might’ve been a wrestler, but he had the words UNIVERSITY SECURITY on his shirt.  He approached the group and looked right at Kate and Joe.

Security: “Is this woman with you?”

Kate and Joe looked at each other, and then back at the security officer.  Joe nodded his head and Kate sweated even more, to the point of drenching her socks.

Security: “Where’s your head at, kid?  Let the lady go first.  She’s with child.” 

He looked right at her and smiled, which Kate guessed was meant to be inviting, but didn’t make her feel any more comfortable.

Security: “Go on through, miss.”

Kate gulped down her previous fear and strolled past the man, while the other two followed close behind.  Joe got the stink-eye from the security guy.  Sensing DDTs and power-bombs in his future, he decided to hasten his pace towards the ticket taker, who then took their tickets.

Inside, they all had a powwow about where to go and if they would get snacks. Eventually, they got it all together and found their seats. The game began with the singing of the national anthem, which got everyone riled up and patriotic. The players on both teams took to the field in a frenzy, to everyone’s delight.  You could feel the high levels of energy throughout the stadium.  The pops that the players took created audible “pops” throughout the audience.

The hometown team was losing in the first quarter, to the chagrin of Joe and the gang.  Mod had pulled the thermos from Kate’s baby belly when he was sure no one was looking. Kate hastily ripped off the hot sweater and fake belly and threw them underneath her seat.  The upper part of her green tanktop was drenched with sweat.

Kate: “Ugh, I need to cool down.”

Mod pulled a couple cans of Double Dog Brew for himself and handed another to Joe and then to Kate.  Joe sipped his beer while the other two downed theirs like old pros and argued over who had finished first.  Kate and Mod grabbed more beers and shared stories of the time Mod had accidently soiled his underwear during a camping trip.  Mod tried not to laugh but couldn’t help himself.

Mod: “You guys are poop-heads.”

Kate: “Great choice of words, little bro.  You might want to rethink what comes out of your potty mouth.”

When the second quarter picked up, they poured their hearts into cheering the Pickers, while pouring more beers into their mouths. You would’ve thought the Fowlers had murdered the families of their rivals from the jeers they got.  Joe, Mod, Kate, and the rest that sat in their row, screamed expletives at the rival team, and a few death threats as well.  Mod and Joe had made friends with the group sitting next to them and even shared some of their beers.  The man sitting next to Mod was very grateful.

Neighboring Fan: “Yeah, they’re selling beers at the concession for about seven flippin’ dollars.  If I didn’t think security would be so tight I would’ve brought me some cans too.”

Mod: “Yeah I always come prepared, man. Otherwise I’d blow all of my allowance—er paycheck, on these drinks.”

Kate elbowed Mod in the ribs and the friendly fan merely laughed.  Towards the end of the second quarter the group started smelling something weird.

Joe: “Do you guys smell that?”

Kate: “What is it?”

Joe: “Smells like something is burning or something.”

They all smelled it, but it was so faint that no one paid it any major attention.  Maybe one of the vendors had overcooked a hotdog.  Since no one else was moving, it couldn’t be too big of a deal.  Joe looked back down at the field and saw that the Pickers were still down.  The group then stood up and cheered louder than ever for their hometown team.

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Chapter 2


A large rippling explosion reverberated throughout the stadium.  Fires came from seemingly nowhere.  Chaos erupted throughout the stadium as everyone sprang out of their seats and to the exits.  Joe kept sight of Kate and her brother Mod and moved down the crowded stairs and into the hallways of the stadium.  They all ran towards the exit.  Kate and Mod had a sizable lead on Joe.

Another explosion then ripped throughout the stadium, causing the panic to erupt into pandemonium.  Joe lost sight of Kate amongst the sea of desperate people seeking the exit.  The smoke coming from the lower levels of the stadium was so black and thick that it began to obscure the field.  It had begun to choke Joe; his eyes were starting to water.  He wiped them, and when he did, he saw the most beautiful girl that he’d ever seen in real life.  There were women on TV who came close to this beauty, but no woman he’d ever seen or met in this reality was even close.  He was forced to question if he was still even alive, or if the smoke and heat had gotten the better of him.  He was as hot as a slab of ribs on the fourth of July, so that gave him a clue.

For some reason, the dark haired woman was running the opposite way from the rest of the crowd, like fighting a tide, but she managed to do so gracefully and with marginal effort.  There was a loud pop and the beauty ducked, another and she ducked again.  She did all this without losing her running pace, and Joe realized the woman was being chased and shot at.  After another pop, Joe saw someone in the crowd fall to the ground.  He looked around for the shooter, but had a hard time seeing anyone specific in such a large crowd.  He waited for another pop, and maybe a flash.  The anticipation was killing him. He knew he should be trying to escape with the others, but he was compelled to find this shooter.

There!  He caught sight of the man in the black suit with what Joe had guessed was probably an M9 handgun, thanks to his years of playing Call of Duty.  The crowd had thinned considerably around the man, and he ran forward after the woman.  He pushed a small child out of the way, and then shoved an older lady to the ground.  He carefully aimed his gun and drew a bead on the olive-skinned beauty in all black.  He stopped and anticipated the way she might move and BLAM!

The bullet flew upwards and clicked against metal near the ceiling.  Joe had slapped the gun out of the man’s hand.  After the initial moment of shock, the man clad in the black suit glared down at Joe, who had fallen clumsily.  Thick red veins bulged from the man’s neck.

Man in Black: “What the hell do you think you’re doing, kid?  I’m going to pop your head off your skinny little shoulders. And guess what?  I’m going to love every second of it.”

The man picked Joe up and threw a wild punch into the defenseless boy’s stomach.  Joe tried to double over and heave up everything he had eaten today, but the man held him up for more punishment.

Man: “I’m not done with you yet, boy.”

Joe saw the man wind back for a punch that he just knew was a gift for his face.  If given a choice, he would reject the present, or re-gift it, but he currently didn’t have that luxury.

Joe then fell under the force of several people.  He felt the floor and was free to crawl away from the pandemonium.  When he looked back, he saw that a group of very big Fowler fans were going to town on the man in black’s face.  He couldn’t stomach any more of the carnage, so he looked forward to see where the woman had went.

He just had to make sure that she was okay, then he could leave.  He wasn’t sure if any of those bullets had hit her, and he wasn’t quite thinking straight.  It could have been the drinks.  It could have been the chaos.  It could have even been the lack of breathable air from the fire and gut wrenching punch.  He hadn’t noticed that she left no blood trail.  He hadn’t even noticed that he had run past another man in a black suit or that the man was drawing a bead on the back of his skull.  The only thing on his mind now was a scent.  It had disrupted Joe’s surroundings.  It didn’t fit in with all the running people, fire, sweat, blood, and chaos.  It smelled…

Joe was halfway to the ground before he heard the popping sound.  He floated seemingly forever between the sky and the ground, waiting to descend.  The smell came back to the forefront of his thoughts and was stronger now, enjoyably aromatic, but that wasn’t all.  There was a weight on his chest, and it was warm, comfortably so.  He instinctively cradled it and felt arms go around his hips and to his back.  For no reason, Joe felt the moment was framed in gold.  He had just enough time to see her dark tresses spread about his chest as he and this golden person fell.  A perfect moment.  A perfect meeting.

The force of his body hitting the floor unmercifully interrupted all that.

“Are you an imbecile?  Get up and run!  Go!”

Her voice had an unmistakable foreign flare to it, but didn’t distract from the message she was trying to convey.  The curtness of her voice jolted Joe to his feet to meet her.  When he looked up, she was already on her feet and glaring at him with coal black eyes and a frown on her dark red painted lips.  He waited for her to move before he did.

“Go!  Now!”

She hadn’t even looked at Joe when she’d said that.  Her eyes were now on her shooter.  She reached for her ear and took off a large earring.  The silver pendant bore a symbol that Joe thought looked like a lightning bolt.

She threw the thing hard in one smooth motion and Joe heard it smack the guy dead in the chest.  He flew back on impact and landed painfully hard on the floor, convulsing.  He looks like those guys on Cops after they’ve been Tased, he concluded.  The woman turned back to him with eyes full of anger.  That expression scared him more than all of his teachers combined.  The woman was pretty tall, and built like a fighter.  Her arms were bigger than Joe’s and more toned.  She honestly looked like trouble with her torn up black leggings, frayed rolled up long sleeve black blouse, black and gray sneakers, and taped up hands.  Despite that he still felt he needed to help her.

“Why are you still here?  I told you to leave!”

Joe: “I’m sorry, miss, I just want to make sure you’re not hurt or anything.”

“I’m not.”

Joe: “Well I … I just want to help you.”

“Oh no!  I’ve accidently ‘inspired’ you, haven’t I?  I really don’t have time for this.”

She forcibly grabbed Joe’s hand and started running.  Joe saw that she looked determined, and that the earring she had thrown earlier was now back on her ear. He must have been mistaken; she must have thrown the one from the opposite ear.

They continued to run against the crowd and away from the doors.  Joe was sure they were actually going deeper into the stadium.

Joe: “Where are we going, miss?”

“Just enjoy the ride.  Since you’re so gung-ho about helping me out.”

They found an elevator and the woman called it.  It opened as soon as she pressed the button.

Joe: “Is this safe, miss … miss?  Um, what’s your name?”

“Just get in.”

Joe: “That’s a funny name.”

Joe offered a smile, but the brunette pushed him into the freight car.

“This is as safe as we need it to be, and if you must call me anything, call me annoyed.”

Joe: “Seriously!?”

“The concept of sarcasm is lost on you, isn’t it?  So to say you’re an imbecile isn’t too far from the mark.”

Joe: “I'm not stupid.  I just wanted to know your name.”

"Call me what you like.  If I'm lucky, I won't have to see you after today."

Joe: "Well, the only thing that I can think of is Beauty, but mean lady might also fit or Rudee or even sarcastic girl."

Beauty: “Whatever helps you sleep at night.  Though that is a curious concept, isn’t it?  Beauty can be learned, perfected, and mastered, and yet it is still utterly subjective.”

The brunette studied Joe’s face and laughed.

Beauty: “I’m going to think about that one for a while.  I suppose I could use your help.  Yes, that’s it!”

Joe scratched his head, both out of habit and in general confusion.

Beauty: “You have a chance to do a really good deed today.  Something that can really help a lot of people out.  Something that I can now see is impossible on my own at this point.”

Joe: “What are you trying to do?  Why are they trying to kill you?”

Beauty: “I don’t have time to explain.  Just know that I'm trying to save someone.  Once this elevator stops we’re going to have to run, and if you stick with me your life will be in danger.  You need to decide before we reach the next floor.”

The wooziness brought on by the drinks and lack of oxygen had begun to disappear and Joe felt his head was mostly clear now.  He wondered why he had even done what he did earlier to save this woman.  It was simple, he thought, Mom and Pop taught me early on to do the right thing.  It was only natural to help when big men with guns tried to hurt little women.  Joe knew he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.  He wasn’t raised that way.

Joe: “This person, are they important to you?”

Beauty: "Not to me, but to someone else, I'm sure.  Today is the only day I can get them out."
Joe thought about it for a moment, but he knew he couldn't pass up a chance to save someone's life.  He would want the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot.

Joe: "I'll help you."

The woman didn’t look all that surprised.

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Chapter 3

She Can Do That!?


Joe: “Okay, we’re here, let’s go!”

Beauty: “Get back in here!  This isn’t our floor.”

Joe hopped back into the freight elevator and looked at the button panel.

Joe: “But it says we’re at the ground floor.  We can’t go any lower.”

Beauty: “Shhh.”

Beauty ran her fingers through her hair and produced what looked to be a keycard.  She took the keycard and inserted it into a small slit on the back side of the elevator.  Three glowing squares popped up in the middle of the small glass display on the wall.  They were marked UG5, UG6, and UG7. Beauty pressed the square for UG6; the elevator began to move and the display disappeared.

The card reader ejected Beauty’s card and she grabbed it and placed it back amongst her dark tresses.  Joe wondered where exactly she had put the card, but didn't linger too long on that thought.  He had other things on his mind.

Joe: “Do you have a gun or anything?  Seems like all these guys might have guns.”

Beauty: “No, I don’t need ‘em.  I have everything I need right here.”

She touched the earrings on her ears.  Joe didn’t know what she meant or how her missing earring was back on her ear.

Joe: “What will you do with those?  They’re just earrings.”

Beauty: “I’m tricky.  They won’t even see me coming.”

The elevator had finally come to a stop.  For some reason Beauty was still facing the back wall.  Joe went to tell her that they had reached their stop, but was halted when the back wall of the elevator suddenly slid completely open.  Joe gaped down the hall to see if there was anyone there, but didn’t see or hear anyone.

Beauty: “Just follow me, Joe.”

Joe: “Okay, but how do you know my name?  I haven’t told you yet.”

Beauty: “You look like a Joe.  A real average Joe.”

When Joe just stood there looking creeped out, the woman sighed then chuckled.

Beauty: “Relax, I’m just joking.  I only guessed your name.  What are the chances that I’d be right?  Now come on.”

Joe followed her as close as he possibly could.  He figured that even if he somehow lost his sight he could still follow her as long as he had his sense of smell.  The woman smelled as delightful as she looked, and Joe was taking it all in.  It was one of the perks of following a woman, he supposed.

Beauty: “Remember to watch me and not my superbly sculpted buns, little guy.  I need you to be alert.”

Joe snapped to attention and looked mortified.

Joe: “But I … I mean I wasn’t.”

Beauty: “Save it.  Let’s go!”

Beauty ran down the hall with the speed and grace of a creature of the night.  Joe had never seen a person move like she did.  Complete confidence in her movements, she hugged the walls as if she were a part of them whenever she checked her surroundings.  Joe felt awkward and clumsy as he tried to keep up.  He wasn’t used to sneaking around, and seeing Beauty in action just made him feel like the kid he was.  In that brief moment, he felt oddly uncomfortable in his own skin.  A very strange thought crept into his head.  He imagined some small creature piloting his body and now cursing itself because it didn’t pay attention to lessons in human piloting school.  The creature also cursed Beauty’s pilot for being a know-it-all goody-goody and an overachiever.  His daydreams ended when Beauty signaled him over to her side.

Beauty: “I’m sure this floor was successfully evacuated.  I didn’t see anyone up ahead, but we should have company pretty soon.  Let’s clear this hallway and I’ll lead you to our destination.”

Joe: “Okay, but what do you want me to do when we get there?”

Beauty: “Don’t worry, I’ll let you know soon.  You’ll come in handy.”

They ran down another hall filled with doors that mostly led to empty rooms.  Joe had no clue what these rooms could have been used for or even why the stadium had hidden floors to begin with.  None of it made sense.  Far behind them Joe heard the elevator doors slide open, and shortly after heard voices as well.  The sound hadn’t escaped Beauty.  They turned a corner and entered a large room filled with lockers that seemed like the coldest part of the building.  Joe wondered if it was a backup locker room for the sports stars, but couldn’t see a visible showering area nearby.  He did spot one thing though, a beautiful blonde girl bound with rope and gagged.  She wore some sort of blue security pants with lots of big pockets and a white tank top but no shoes.  She had a few bruises on her face and upper back near her shoulders.

Beauty: “She’s still in here.  This makes things a lot easier.”

Beauty quickly ran over to the girl and tugged at her ropes.

Beauty: “What an amateur.  I can’t believe you got caught like that.  You’ve made my job one hundred times harder.”

Joe: “I don’t think she can hear you.”

Beauty: “Can’t a girl vent her frustrations?  This girl really mucked things up for me.”

Joe: “Sure, but what made you both come here anyway?”

Beauty: “I guess I can tell you that.  I have no clue why she’s here but I’m here to get something precious to me.  It’s supposed to be down here somewhere.  I thought I’d free her in the process.  She got caught, a few weeks ago.”

Joe: “Who is she?”

Beauty: “Ask her yourself whenever she wakes up.  Here take this.”

She handed Joe her elevator card and grabbed the earring from her ear.  It looked like she was squeezing it, but when she opened her hand Joe saw a shiny curved knife there, not an earring.  She took it and sliced through the ropes cleanly as if she were using a katana and when she was done, the knife turned back into a little earring and she put it back on her ear.  Joe couldn’t believe that he wasn’t dreaming right now.  This woman was really using magic in front of his very eyes.  She tried shaking the girl awake, but to no avail.  She looked over towards the back row of lockers and only saw one that was lockless.

Beauty: “Okay, I need you to listen very carefully, Joe.  A group of those guys that were shooting at me earlier are going to arrive here any minute now.  I need you to do a few things for me.  Starting off, I need you to hurry and tie me up.”

She lifted the girl off of the chair that she was sitting on and gently placed her on the floor.
Joe: “But I—”

Beauty: “No time to explain, Joe.  Just do as I say.  I’ll be just fine.”

Joe nodded his head and waited for further orders.  Beauty picked up the rope that had bound the blonde girl and handed it to Joe.  Joe was shocked to find that the rope had none of the cuts on it that Beauty had made earlier, but he decided not to linger on that thought.

Beauty: “Make sure you do that nice and tight, country boy.  Knot it good.  Once you finish that, I want you to pick up Sleeping Beauty and head straight to that locker over there — I’m staring right at it — and hide.  Once the room clears out, I want you to wait a few minutes — at least until you don’t hear any more voices — and then I want you to escape with her.”

Joe: “Who is she?”

Beauty: “She’s important.  I need her alive, and if anything happens to her I’m going to find you and extirpate you.”

Joe: “Ex stir Pete?  What’s that?”

Beauty: “Do as I say and you won’t ever have to find out.  Now go.  Hurry, we have no time.  Make sure you stay hidden.”

Joe grabbed the mystery blonde and walked himself and the girl to the only locker that he saw without a lock.  He opened the locker and saw nothing but a Pantera t-shirt inside.  He lifted the cute blonde up and placed her inside first.  She kept falling to the bottom of the locker, so he leaned her up and propped her at an angle.

Beauty: “Hurry up!”

Joe hastily draped his legs over the girl’s slumbering body and squeezed in as best he could.  It was definitely a tight fit, and it was definitely uncomfortable.  He could feel the girl’s tiny breaths on his chest, and could feel the weight and warmth of her body against his belly.  The only girl he had ever been this close with was Kate.  He peered out through the slits of the locker and nearly dropped his jaw.

Where Beauty had sat before, there was now another blonde girl.  No … the same blonde girl, but that was impossible.  Joe looked down again at his locker mate and examined her face.  He then looked at the girl in the chair and saw that they were identical right down to the bruises they shared.
This was madness.  More importantly, where was Beauty?  Joe had only looked away for a few seconds and had lost her.  Wait, something was off, he thought.  The clothes didn’t match up.  The girls wore completely different outfits.  That’s when he saw it.  Before his eyes, the blonde in the chair’s outfit changed from the one that Beauty had worn to the same blue security outfit that his locker mate was wearing.  It was then that he knew.

Joe: “She isn't like us.”

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Chapter 4

Do What Now!?

Through the slits in the locker, Joe could still see Beauty, the lady he was trying to help, but now things had gotten a bit more complicated.  For one, he had found himself in a very secret part of his favorite football team’s stadium, so secret in fact that the buttons to get there weren’t on the elevator.  He was also being pursued by dangerous men in black suits thanks to his good deeds.  But none of that held a candle to the fact that this woman, whom Joe had named Beauty, could change her face and clothes on a whim.  She had changed from a tall, dark skinned, dark haired woman in an all-black outfit to a blonde haired girl wearing a blue security outfit and it only took an instant.  He had to play the scenario in his head over again just to process it all.

A knot of tension welled up in his stomach.  He couldn’t help but feel as if the blonde who used to be Beauty was a sitting duck.  But it was her who had told him to tie her up, so he assumed she had some sort of plan.  It was wishful thinking, but Joe was hard pressed thinking otherwise.  He left it all to her and somehow trusted her judgment wholeheartedly.  He had carelessly staked his life upon it.

There were men’s voices and then a loud crash.  Joe could see men’s heads over the tops of the smaller lockers in the middle of the floor, and there were many of them.  Most of them were in black suits, but he saw a few wearing a blue security uniform, with pants just like the blonde’s.   They all seemed to be searching for something or someone.  An older guy dressed recklessly in a salmon-colored shirt and white pants walked near the blonde in the chair.

“I was sure our intruder would come this way.   If whoever broke in didn’t want this girl, then I don’t know why they came to this floor.  Keep looking!  They can’t have gone far.”

He was red all over, but reserved the darkest shade for his neck and face.  His balding head shined like the sun when the light caught it, and glistened as brightly as the long locks of blonde hair on the sides and the back of his head.  He tapped the chair and signaled two of the men in black to his side.

“Bring her.  We’re going to need collateral for that old agent.”

The man stared at the blonde’s face and grabbed her by the cheeks.  Beauty pretended to be in a half-sleep state, which was more conscious than she and Joe had found the girl, but none of the men raised objections to that.  The balding man pulled back her hair so that she faced him.

“The old man is being a real pain in our collective behinds.  If he doesn’t back off, I’m going to have no choice but to do great harm to you.  You ready to tell me why you came here?”

The man smiled and Beauty simply slumped down into her chair when he released her.  Joe’s heart had stopped, for the man was looking dead at him it seemed.  Joe dared not move.  He dared not even breathe, and he hoped to heaven that his locker-mate would not make any sudden movements.  The man seemed to stare on forever and Joe was stuck in the moment.  He didn’t know if he should just wait for his fate or if he should run out there and fight for his life.  Either way, he knew he’d die, but he also knew that he was no warrior and had no real prideful aspirations to “go out with a bang,” as they say.  Truthfully, he didn’t trust himself.  He didn’t know what he would do next and that frightened him.  For now he waited.

“Where’s the lock for that locker?  It’s the only one I see without a lock and I don’t trust unlocked things in secret places.”

He walked towards the metal coffin and was halted mid-stride by one of his subordinates.  The security officer in blue had an explanation for him.

Security: “That’s Pete’s locker.  He hasn’t locked it since he’s worked for you guys.  The only thing he keeps in there is that funky Pantera t-shirt that he likes to over-wear.”

“Well, tell your friend Pete to invest in a lock.  Alright, let’s go, we’re burning clock here.”
Two of the men in black untied Beauty, handcuffed her, and placed a cloth bag over her head.  The bigger of the two hoisted her over his shoulders and carried her.  Ten seconds later, the room was completely empty.  Joe waited ten minutes to even make a peep.  He waited until even the small bumps couldn’t be heard anymore.  Once the coast was clear he opened the locker and got a better view of the hallway outside.  He stopped and listened, more clearly now, to the sounds outside the room.

He moved himself awkwardly past the sleeping blonde girl to the outside of the locker.  He looked at the girl more carefully now.  She was much more beautiful than he had noticed before, even though she was drooling and sweating unpleasantly.  He was also a sweaty mess, but being trapped in a sardine can while scared to death would do that.  He grabbed the girl, and she stirred after returning to the cooler air of the locker room.  She shivered when he placed her on the cold floor.  He nudged her by her shoulder but got no response.  He let out a whisper.

Joe: “Hey.  Pssssssst!  Wake up.  I need you to wake up.  Psssssst!  We’re in danger.”

No response.  He shook her some more but nothing.

Joe: “Sorry ‘bout this.  I don’t hit girls, I swear.”

Joe slapped her face once, twice, then thrice.  He contemplated striking her harder, until a better idea came to his head.  He walked to the back of the room, to the showers, and ran the water from one of the faucets.  He came out with a handful of cold water and nearly tripped trying to quickly get it to the blonde.

Joe: “This is stupid.  I’m going to spill all this water and have to do this all over again.”

He didn’t spill, much anyway.  He knelt down but forgot to apply a little restraint and dropped all the water he had in his palms straight onto the blonde’s face.  She quickly sprang up coughing and snorting and slapped Joe bloody.

Joe: “Ouch!  What the hell!”

Blonde: “What the hell?  What the hell!  You almost drowned me!”

Joe: “Sorry, sorry.  Keep it down, we’re in danger.”

She rubbed her face and tried to wipe as much water and grogginess from it as she could.  They must’ve done a number on her.

Blonde: “Who are you, kid, and what happened?”

Joe didn’t think the girl was far enough from his own age to be calling him a kid.  He stared into her curved brown eyes.

Joe: “My name is Joe and that’s all I really know.  I was helping some lady out and we came down here.  I guess she was trying to free you.”

The blonde girl stood up and blew her nose into her shirt.  She said something to herself, but Joe caught it as he rose up with her.

Blonde: “A woman, huh?”

Joe: “Yeah, and she got captured after she freed you.”

Blonde: “And you’re her partner?”

He answered without hesitation.

Joe: “Yeah, but she brought me in last minute and still never had the chance to bring me completely up to speed.”

Blonde: “You agreed to help her out without even knowing what her mission was?”

Joe nodded his head and smiled.  It was stupid but true.  He had gotten himself in a situation that might cost him his life and he had done so without the promise of a reward or even a clear purpose.  Something had come over him and made him act so reckless.  It was well outside of his normal behavior.

Blonde: “Do you want to rescue her?”

Joe: “No, that would be a bad idea.  I think she planned to get caught.”

Blonde: “Hold on.  What time is it?”

Joe stopped and pulled his phone out. His signal was completely dead, but it still displayed the right time.

Joe: “It’s 3:43.  In the afternoon.”

Blonde: “We need to go to the seventh floor.”

Joe: “You want to do what?  That’s the floor below us, right?”

Blondie nodded her head.

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Chapter 5

One More Thing

Joe: “We need to leave before they kill us.  To leave, we go up.”

He pointed up at the ceiling.

Blondie: “We need to do one more thing before we leave.  It’s important.”

Joe didn’t want to tempt fate any more than he already had.

Joe: “I’m sorry, miss—”

Blonde: “Dahlila! D-A-H-L-I-L-A!”

Joe: “I’m sorry, Dahlila, but I can’t think of anything more important than getting out of here alive.  I have the keycard that we’ll need to get out of here.  Now let’s go.”

Dahlila simply smiled.  Her smile made Joe uncomfortable.  He felt that she knew something that he didn’t, which he knew was extremely true.  She walked over to him and placed her head on his chest.  She looked up into his eyes and uttered a phrase that made Joe’s heart race.

Dahlila: “Kiss me.”

Joe: “Wha—what?”

What a crazy thing to say!  They had only just met.  Maybe she was in worse shape than he imagined.  She backed up and let out a laugh.  Joe stood where he was, confused.

Dahlila: “Never mind all that. I just wanted this.”

She produced the elevator keycard, that Joe thought he was safely guarding in his pocket, and giggled uncontrollably.  Joe looked at her, hurt.

Dahlila: “Sorry for the deceit, but I may need your help on floor seven.  In exchange, I’ll lead you out of here using a safer exit than the elevator.  The elevator’s a kill-box at this point.”

Joe: “So how are we going to get to the seventh floor without the elevator?”

Again Dahlila smiled.

Dahlila: “Well, of course they would make some stairs.  We just have to find them and from there I can get us out.”

Joe: “I don’t know if this elevator key will work on any other doors.”

Dahlila: “It won’t, but one of these will.”

She produced three ID badges from some pocket on the inside of her pants.  Each of the cards were all white with blue rims.  She held them all up for Joe to see.

Dahlila: “Now let’s go and we need to step on it.”

Joe followed closely behind Dahlila, who moved just as fast and with nearly as much grace as Beauty.  She glided down the hallway going towards the elevator and past all the empty doors.  Joe saw that a few of the doors they passed had electronic key locks, and was curious as to what was behind those doors.  Ahead of him Dahlila had stopped abruptly at a particular door that wasn’t any more special than the rest.  She swiped her keycard with complete confidence and opened the door.  She entered and Joe entered after her into a narrow hallway.  They walked all the way down the hallway, past another door that was also locked with a keycard, and found steps leading downwards.

Joe: “How’d you know this was the right place to go?”

Dahlila: “I’d say that I knew thanks to thirty percent observation and seventy percent guessing.”

Dahlila laughed, apparently amused by the truth and the fact that it had worked.
Dahlila: “I always saw guys coming in here and not coming out for long amounts of time.”

They slowly crept down to another level that they both hoped was the seventh floor.  Dahlila looked around and kept low.  She pulled Joe down to his knees so fast that the boy barely had time to let out a small cry which was quickly stifled by Dahlila’s hand.  Joe looked at her accusingly, but she merely shushed him and continued moving forward.  Down the hall was a door, but to the left was a window that spanned about a third of the hallway.  Voices could be heard from behind the window, and Joe was getting that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  It was the same feeling he got whenever he knew he was about to get in trouble for something stupid.  They slowly crouch-walked under the window and down the hallway.

Dahlila: “Almost there…”

Once they reached the door, Dahlila swiped her card and they hurried through.  The voices behind them abruptly stopped.  Once out the door Joe and Dahlila both stood up and looked around the hallway.  Dahlila didn’t seem as concerned as Joe at the fact that they may have been spotted and moved forward with ceaseless determination.  Her eyes seemed to be taking in every detail.  Joe wasn’t sure where they were and couldn’t understand the purpose of this part of the stadium.  There was nothing, but long hallways and numbered rooms in each of the hallways.  All of the doors they had checked so far were locked.

Dahlila: “Damn.  I have no clue what door I’m looking for.”

She let out a sigh.

Dahlila: “This sucks.”

She stopped for a moment and looked down the hall they were standing in.

Joe: “What are you looking for?”

Dahlila: “A person.  Let’s split up and search the hallway by ourselves.  We’ll cover more ground that way.  If you see anyone that’s not a security guard come and get me.”

Joe didn’t like that idea, it made no sense to him.  He didn’t even know who they were looking for.  Before he could object, Dahlila took off and Joe assumed he would just search the other side of the hallway or another hallway altogether.  He decided to do another hallway; he figured he would cover much more ground that way.

He now felt completely vulnerable.  He knew he was someplace that he shouldn’t be, and even though he had gone in far deeper, he hadn’t felt the true depths of his fear until now.  He saw the cameras that lined the halls and he heard the distant footsteps that didn’t belong to himself or Dahlila.  He was in danger, and if he didn’t leave soon, he was going to die.  He knew this, maybe all along, but with Beauty and Dahlila he had forgotten his fears.  Now, without them, he was as good as dead.  He didn’t necessarily want to go back alone either, so he figured he should just continue looking for whoever or whatever it was that he was supposed to be looking for so that he and Dahlila could just go back together.  What did she want? he wondered.

He softly pressed the handle on each door he had come across, which all had surprisingly low-tech methods of entry.  These doors had metal locks that required metal keys instead of plastic cards and electronic circuitry.  Joe could not take his mind off of the footsteps that he had heard earlier and the quieting of the voices when he and Dahlila had entered through the door.  He began to sweat.

Joe: “Dang it…”

He became more anxious every time he failed to open another door and moved further down the hallway.  He thought about the cameras and how they must have clear images of his face.  He wondered why no one had come to stop him or Dahlila and that frightened him more than anything else.  Why else would people this secretive be waiting to capture us, he thought.  They were planning some grisly, horrific punishment for him.  One that ensured that he wouldn’t even get a proper burial.

Joe: “Dang it!  I don't want to be here…”

He continued to press on through his fears and attempted to open any door that he saw.  None would open.  He looked back and saw that he’d tried at least ten doors so far.  His stomach sank again.  He thought about how he had touched all the doors and how his sweat-stained hands had left very noticeable fingerprints on each and every one of the perfectly polished handles.

Then he heard footsteps growing louder and that brought him to attention.  They came from the front of him, at the end of the hall.  When he looked forward he saw no one, but the person was getting closer, and with all the doors around him likely locked he was trapped.  He backpedaled to the previous hallway.  He wanted to run, but figured that if he could hear whomever’s footsteps as clear as he could, they would hear the pitter-patter of his running just as well, so he walked as fast as he could.  He looked back to see if whoever owned those footsteps had caught him, but saw no one at the end of the hall.  He reached his end and looked back one more time before turning the corner and suddenly feeling all the air being crushed from his throat.

He now couldn’t see anything but the ceiling, his body flailing against the pressure of a man far bigger than himself.  What little air he had was nearly gone and his eyes started to water.  His hands could only yank at the ears of his attacker.  He was on the verge of giving up when he felt the hands around his neck slacken and his body fall to the ground.  About two seconds later the body of his attacker fell next to his.  It was a woman, a huge one, in a uniform with the word “W-Sec” on it.
He struggled to find his lost strength, and looked up. To his surprise, it was Dahlila’s face. The light above her made it hard to tell.  He slowly stood, and was even more surprised by what was behind her back.

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Chapter 6

Stranger Danger

Joe struggled to breathe, and began to cough loudly.

Joe: “Is that what we came here for?”

Dahlila: “Shutup with all that coughing.  This is not a what, but a ‘she,’ if you hadn’t noticed. She has a name.  Now come on, we need to get the hell out of here.”

The air of the place felt different.  It felt livelier.  He looked down at the little girl that held Dahlila’s hand ever so gently.  She couldn’t have been any older than nine; he guessed seven.  Joe had never seen a little girl with as little hair as she had, or one quite as dark as her.  He couldn’t help but think that he had misheard Dahlila when she had called the little one a “she.”  After studying her features, he was convinced of her femininity however.  She looked calm despite her surroundings, and simply looked at him as if unaware of how much danger they were in.  Why is she so dang calm? he wondered.  The little girl looked right at him as if he were talking right to her.

Joe: “Who is she?”

Dahlila: “Her name’s Melissa.  Melissa, this is Joe.”

The little girl knelt down and relieved the unconscious guard of her flashlight and another blue and white card.  She held it up to Dahlila.

Melissa: “It’s a level seven.”

Dahlila: “I already have one of those.  That’s how I got you out of that room.”

Joe: “And why is she down here?”

Melissa: “Because my daddy’s a very important man.”

She gave him a reassuring smile, reached out and gently grabbed his trembling hand.  Joe pulled his hand away from the little girl.  He was too embarrassed to show her how scared he was.

Melissa: “It’s okay to be scared a little, Joe, we all are, especially me.  But we all have to be smart and work together to get out of here.”

Joe was flabbergasted by the wisdom of that.  If she can be brave, then so can I, he thought.

Dahlila: “Let’s go, guys.  I’m going back to the stairs.”

Melissa: “Bad idea.  They already know you’re here.  There’s another way up.  A safer way.”

Dahlila: “Sounds good.  Lead on, lil’ sister.”

Joe: “She’s your sister?”

Dahlila: “She wishes.”

Melissa smiled.

Melissa: “Follow me.  This way will lead us right out of here.”


Melissa: “Oh no!”

The group looked back and saw a team of guards in blue behind them.  The word W-Sec lined their clothes like a brand name.  Dahlila and Joe ran like the wind but Melissa began to fall behind.

Dahlila: “We need to get out of here now!  Come on!”

Dahlila picked Melissa up and the girl scrambled onto her back.  Joe was amazed at the woman’s show of strength, and surprised that even with the extra weight of the girl that Dahlila still outpaced him.  They approached a fork in the hallway.

Melissa:  “Take the right up there.  Then at the end a left, and be careful, they have guns.”

Dahlila responded to her instructions precisely, with Joe right behind trying to keep pace.

Melissa: “Now up ahead a left, and run all the way to the end and take a right. Don’t turn at the middle.”

Dahlila: “I could’ve just took a left the first time.”

Melissa: “I’m trying to confuse them.  I want them to think that we don’t know where we’re going.  Now keep running!”

They ran and ran, taking another right, then a left, right, left.  They didn’t stop running until Melissa halted them.

Melissa: “Dahl, use your level seven keycard for this room.”

Dahlila swiped the card and they entered into a dark room.  Once they closed the door behind them, Joe couldn’t see anything.  The little girl shined a flashlight up towards the ceiling.

Melissa: “Daddy told me never leave home without one of these.  Daddy’s usually always right.  Now I need you two to help me climb up there.”

Joe volunteered.  He followed the direction of Melissa’s flashlight to a table and moved it right below the spot she had pointed.  He climbed atop it, with Melissa soon after, and pushed up on one of the cold metal tiles.  It proved surprisingly tough to move, but Joe managed it.  He hoisted little Melissa up and over soon after and then waited anxiously.  She hadn’t informed Joe or Dahlila what would happen after they lifted her.  Joe could hear the voices outside getting closer.  He dared not yell at the girl for fear of being discovered, so he whispered as loud as he thought possible.

Joe: “Psst, Melissa, we need you.  They’re going to be here any minute now.”

He became aware of his sweating again.  He had nearly thought that the girl had fled, until she dropped a rope down for him and Dahlila.

Melissa: “Come on, hurry!”

They climbed up, pulled the rope with them and placed the tile back in the spot where it was left.  Joe could only see wherever Melissa pointed her flashlight.

Joe: “So this somehow leads out of here?”

Melissa: “Yes, just follow me.  I’ve done this a bajillion times before.”

Joe: “Who helped you get up here before?”

Melissa: “His name was Joe too, and he was a good man.  I told him that he couldn’t escape through here on his own, but he tried anyway.”

Joe: “What happened to him?”

Melissa: “They caught him on level six and that was the last I heard of him.”

Dahlila: “Men never listen to little girls.”

Melissa shook her head and walked faster ahead.  She had a much easier time getting around in the dark than Joe did.  Her small size made navigating the cramped space no issue, especially compared to Joe, who was hunched over terribly.  He found it hard not to trip over his own feet walking like this.  He had walked into a few strands of spider web and had nearly eaten some when he went to ask Melissa to slow down.  Besides the area directly around Melissa and slightly ahead of her, Joe was surrounded by black.  The group walked as quietly as they could in a direction that Joe could not even guess.

Eventually, the three of them did encounter a sliver of light from above them.  Melissa stopped and pointed at it, but Joe had already guessed what needed to be done.  He struggled, but managed to push aside the floor tile above out of the way and pulled himself up to take a peek at the next floor.  He saw no one.  He was in a bathroom.  He pulled himself up first and listened for sounds for a few seconds.  When he heard nothing, he reached down and pulled Melissa up.  Dahlila had already climbed up by the time he was finished with that.

Dahlila: “I know where to go from here.  Hop on my back.”

She looked at Joe and grinned.

Dahlila: “Not you, Joe.”

Dahlila led them all into the hallway. Joe recognized the furnishings from earlier.  This was the floor he and Beauty had first stopped at, UG6 or level six.  The halls were mostly empty, but for the occasional security guard that ran by.  Joe, Dahlila, and Melissa all hugged the walls and kept low as they crept towards a set of double doors.  They had to duck into a room when a group of guards rounded the corner so fast that they were nearly caught.  Once the guards had passed, it left the path open for the group to run forward through the double doors and up to the stairs.  They ran up one flight and Joe tried to press on, until Dahlila grabbed him.

Dahlila: "Wait."

Joe: "What?"

Dahlila: "You don't want to go up there.  What we need is in here."

She put Melissa down and felt around a small corner of the wall.

Dahlila: "I overheard them talking about what this place was like before they got the elevators.  They used to have to climb up and down with a ladder.  They said it was over in this direction and I remember ... ah here it is."

She tapped the wall with her right foot first, and then with a quick burst of strength kicked the top part in sending the shattered wood down to the floor.  Her next two kicks broke through the rest leaving them enough space to walk through.

Dahlila: "I tried to escape before and ran over here.  I remembered seeing some funny looking lines around here.  Let's go!"

They followed her through an area that looked unpolished compared to the rest of the facility.  There was dry, dusty rock and dirt all around them, like they were in a cave.  There also wasn't any light ahead.  Melissa shined her light forward so they could at least see their feet.  Finally they spotted a rope ladder hanging up ahead.  It stood out in the darkness, a dingy beige color that was probably white at one time.  Dahlila tugged at it firmly.

Dahlila: "It's good!  Time to get out of here."

Joe: "What's up ahead?"

Dahlila: "The exit I imagine, but truthfully I don't know.  I've never made it this far before."

Joe: "What if there's nothing up there?"

Dahlila shook her head and sighed.  She lifted Melissa and put her on the ladder first.  Melissa looked down at Joe and smiled.

Melissa: "Have a little faith, Joe."

She climbed up with Dahlila trailing right behind her.  Joe only hesitated for a bit before deciding he had no choice but to take his chances with the girls.

Dahlila: "It's a long climb.  If your arms start to hurt, just stop and rest.  This goes for both of you.  Joe, if you stop, let us know so we don't leave you behind."

Joe: "Okay."

Her concern for him perked Joe up a bit.  He began to feel a burning in his arms only moments after starting his climb.  It seemed like they had been climbing for at least five minutes straight, and when that turned to almost ten minutes Joe was tapped out.  They all stopped and waited for about a minute for him to get his strength back.  Neither the little girl or Dahlila had looked tired.  Joe wondered what the heck they were made of.  Right after that, they made it to a large metal platform with wooden planks for footholds that led to more stairs.  They took the stairs straight up until they couldn't go up any further.  Here, there were metal rungs attached to the wall.  Joe dreaded more climbing, but decided he'd be the first one to climb up this time.

Dahlila: "Just don't fall."

Joe: "I won't.  I can see a little light up there though."

The climb to the top was short, and Joe found a metal door with a latch on it.  He pulled the old latch towards him and pushed the little door.  It budged only a little.

Dahlila: "Is that all you got?  You're really going to let a little door stop you from escaping like that?"
For some reason, that got right under Joe's skin, like when his friend Jonathan used to tease him about his height or basketball when they were little.  He pushed and pushed with all he could muster until he almost fell off the ladder rungs.  Dahlila managed to do some quick acrobatics to climb up past Melissa to help him out.  They both pushed together until they moved whatever was atop their exit and opened the latch door.  They emerged into a room filled with construction equipment and Joe saw that it was a large workbench that had blocked their exit.  There were old dirty gray tarps covering nearly everything in the room.

Dahlila: "Come on, no time to waste!"

They raced through the room and found themselves suddenly right near the football field.

Joe: "Oh no..."

Ahead of them near the sidelines they spotted a group of men fervently talking.  It was mostly a group of the black-suited men and the security guards.  All of them seemed to be focused on the man in the center.  He stood out from the rest by the sharpness of his style, and projected an air of importance as he gave the men orders.  He was dressed in a crisp gray suit that was about two shades darker than his hair.  He looked sort of familiar to Joe, but he couldn't remember where the heck he would've seen the man.  Melissa looked at him with terror in her eyes.  She whispered something under her breath.  Joe barely heard it.

Melissa: “…Grabas…”

Suddenly the commanding man in gray was looking right at him.  His eyes were pale blue and hunter sharp.  Joe knew the man wouldn't turn away no matter how much he wished for it.  When his stare intensified, the men around him took note and looked over to what he was staring at.  With all eyes on them, Dahlila took off with Melissa on her back, yelling.

Dahlila: "Run the other way!"

She darted up the stands and out of sight.  Joe followed her orders, but was sure he would be caught.  He ran as fast as he could up the stadium aisles and out as soon as he found the nearest exit to the lobby.  There, he saw a bunch of security and knew the jig was up, but now he felt daring.  He remembered the thrill of running from back when he used to play football.  He was never good at it, but it was fun, and now … was this fun?  He ran and ran, and when a security guard tried to grab him he dodged and ran some more.  He saw his exit, but after his brush with the security guard the rest now saw him.  He was almost out of breath but he’d curse himself if he got caught.  He’d at least distract these guys until the girls could get free.  He was good for that.  That’s when he noticed something odd.  There were no police inside the stadium, only security and the men in black.  All the cops were on the outside.

With one final push, Joe raced to the doors leading to the outside.  This was the most exercise he had gotten in a long time and it was killing him.  He pushed and pushed and pushed and knew that after it all he would pass out and die.  With no breath left and no options available, Joe leapt and crashed into the awaiting security guard, sending both of them tumbling through the stadium doors to the outside.  Joe tried to get up, but the man was on top of him.

“Aye, get offa him!  Come on, move—move!  We’ll take it from here, meathead.”

Joe remained on the ground even after the security guard grudgingly rose off of him.  He looked over and saw a young officer approaching.

Joe: “Ouch!”

He was flipped over and made to sit up.  The young officer roughly grabbed his arms and twisted his wrists together.  The officer slapped on the cuffs, giving Joe a death stare the whole time.  The cuffs were much heavier than Joe had expected, and a little too warm.  Once he heard them snap shut, he found that they were way too tight as well.

“You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.  You have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you.  Do you understand the rights that I have just read to you?  With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak with me?”

Joe: “I understand, but I don’t think I want to speak right now.”

“Good, because I don’t think I can stand to listen to your crap, dirtbag.”

With that, Joe was unceremoniously dumped into a cop car like all the criminals he saw on a show he watched all the time, Cops.
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