Rachel wiped a tear from her eye. Lauren squeezed her hand with her scale-free one. Scales covered her face now and climbed down her arm. But at least her one hand was still skin. Were her eyes the same color? Or had they changed too?
“He was our friend,” Rachel said. “Our friend. Did you hear him laughing? He sounded so . . . ,” she searched for the word.
“Evil,” Peter offered.
“And happy,” said Rachel.
Lauren studied the inside of the tree house. She climbed to her feet and poked at windows, the door, and the floorboards. She checked her tablet again, and again it showed heat signatures below the tree house. What was going on? What did Sam want? He had them trapped, what did he plan to do? Realization, or the worst of the worst, jumped out at her.
Peter gasped. Lauren spun around. Did he suspect the same thing?
“Carmichael Agency,” he whispered.
“NO!” Rachel shouted.
Lauren pointed at her tablet, trying without words to argue with Peter even though she suspected the same thing.
“He planted something. He planned this from the beginning. It wouldn’t be hard, didn’t he help design all your equipment?”
“You don’t understand,” Rachel said. “The Agency is under our house. He can reach our parents. They’re still asleep. They won’t even know.”
Lauren sensed Rachel’s fear. She felt it herself. Her heart raced. She wanted to run, scream, fly home. Her parents lay helpless in their bed and the worst of the monsters was coming. How could she have been so blind? How could they not know Sam was the Woman’s son?
A rustling noise broke through the anxious thoughts. The scrawny cat jumped in the room.
“What?” Rachel said scrubbing at her tears. “We can’t get out, how can he get in?”
Peter stepped closer to the cat. He puffed up his hair and hissed showing his sharp teeth. Peter touched the window.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he whispered.
Lauren ran her fingers around the edge of the window behind her. Rachel dug in her pack and brought out a small bag of snacks. Tearing free a piece of beef jerky, she held it out to the cat. It meowed and inched closer. Lauren gave her a thumbs-up and scanned the window with her tablet. She pulled out her lock-picking tool and tried to pry up a corner. Nothing.
Rachel ran her hand down the back of the cat stroking it. The cat chomped on the jerky and purred. Rachel paused, something shifted in the scruff of the cat’s neck. Done with its snack, the cat bound onto the chair and up on to the top of the entertainment center. The chair tottered and leaned back against the wall. The doors of the entertainment center opened revealing a slide going down into the depths.
“That doesn’t exactly answer how the cat got in, but I’m good with it,” Peter said.
“I know,” Rachel said, “not that it really matters. There’s some kinda chip under his skin.”
Lauren scrunched up her nose.
“They put a chip in the cat?” Peter asked her question.
“The real question is,” Rachel said, “how’d they make it look like no one’s been here for so long?”
Lauren ran her fingers through the dust on the floor. The top layer wiped away revealing footprints in the next layer. She stared pointedly up at Rachel.
“Sam, I mean the Son, invented a dust can that lets you cover your tracks if you have to break into an old haunted house. The Extraction Team used it when they had to deal with a bad case of the boogeyman up north last winter. I can’t believe he betrayed us. He always looked after everyone and made such good inventions.”
Lauren pointed at the cat and then at the slide. Right now, they didn’t need to focus on Sam’s betrayal. They needed to find a way out. Their parents or Carmichael Agency might be in grave danger and only they knew it.
Rachel nodded, tempted the cat off the top of the entertainment center with another piece of jerky, scooped it up, and put him it her backpack. The cat hissed and settled down.
“Taking the cat with us, huh?”
“The chip might be for more than just letting him in and out of the tree house,” Rachel explained. She peered down the slide. “And I don’t really care where this goes, it’s better than just sitting here hoping to be rescued. I want to go make sure my parents are safe.”
“I’m good with the slide.”
The three kids jumped onto the slide and shot down into the dark.
Down, down, down, around, around, and possibly upside down. The twins and Peter shot out into a large open space.
“Well, well, well, that didn’t take long. My Son was right: Put everything in place and you would literally fall right into our hands.” The voice rang out around them. Rachel and Lauren never expected to hear that voice again except in their nightmares. It was the voice of the Woman.
Lauren opened her mouth. The siren gave off a weak, muffled wail. Rachel screamed clutching Lauren. Peter, unaware of who the voice belonged to, of what it signified, felt out in the darkness.
A light flooded the room driving away the shadows. Bars sprang up around them. A terrifying sight came into focus as they squinted in the light.
Their parents were tied to a bar in the middle of the room. Their heads rested on their chests and they snored peacefully. Their mom’s hair stirred as she breathed.
Lauren went silent shutting her mouth. Rachel’s tears dried. The Woman stepped from the shadows with Sam at her shoulder. The twin agents stared out from behind the bars and glared at their arch nemesis.
“And now I’m going to do to you what you did to me,” Sam said.
“Sam, don’t!” Peter shouted.
Rachel and Lauren said nothing. They just glared and glared.
A wrench high over their heads lifted their parents up in the air. They spun slowly.
“And now to wake them up,” Sam said. The Woman smiled down at her Son.
Lauren ripped off her mask. The eerie siren flooded the room booming and echoing.
All the lights went out.