Inhabitable | Invasion Survivor Book Two | Chapter Fourteen
Paige wanted to run away from AJ at that moment, but there was nowhere for her to run. She was trapped, surrounded by the mass.
Her heart felt as though it had stopped beating for a second. Did I hear AJ right? He’s one of them?
Swiftly, Paige backed away from him, regardless of the danger. Her eyes widened in shock as she tried to process the unexpected information.
The boy who was her school crush for so long, someone who held her so tenderly only hours ago, suddenly looked like a stranger. The same guy she’d trusted above all and refused to listen to her mother about—he was one of them?
Them! The enemy.
AJ was one of the Shadow Men Paige feared all her life. Even when she grew up and stopped believing in her mother’s crazy delusions, that fear stayed with her. Haunting her in her dreams, never allowing her to be fully comfortable in the dark.
AJ was one of them.
How can that be?
Her mind raced, trying to figure out what was happening. Terror filled her as she looked at AJ, who silently looked back at her.
This can’t be happening! Her mind tried to deny the truth that was literally biting her in the ass. This is unbelievable.
AJ didn’t look like the Shadow Men they saw on the streets. They all had black holes instead of eyes and a big black gaping hole as a mouth.
The stranger standing in front of her was still AJ, just a kid who made her blush every time she saw him. The way he made her feel when he smiled… He did that a lot in her presence. He always looked at her like she was the only girl in the world for him.
Was she really ready to let all of that go?
“You lied to me,” Paige accused suddenly.
Paige’s mother warned her to stay away from him. She didn’t listen, and she was starting to realize that she should have.
“I’m sorry, Paige...” he started, but then paused as if he didn’t know what to say.
That made her angry, which was easier for her. Being angry was way better than being afraid. Paige moved another step away from him, but still stared at him with wide-open eyes. Seeing him in a different light, unable to look away. Truth be told, she was rendered stupid by this revelation and didn’t know what to say or do. AJ didn’t hurt her or anyone around her in any way while they were running away from the aliens. He’d even helped them escape, made sure Willow and Peter were alright while she tried to rescue her mom. He was still helping her right this second.
The contradictory thoughts inside her head gave her a massive headache. As Paige backed away from him again, the black wave immediately engulfed her legs, capturing her again.
“Paige, you need to stay close to me,” AJ pleaded in a rush, taking a step toward her. “Please don’t be afraid. I would never hurt you. I only want to keep you safe.”
It was hard not to believe him when he was looking at her with those big, sincere eyes.
As the black mass tightened around her feet, Paige reluctantly had to admit he had a point. She needed to stay close to him so she wouldn’t be carried away by it. If she moved away from him again, this thing would embrace her completely and take her away for sure.
Just like Dave.
“Dave!” Paige exclaimed suddenly, making AJ jerk in response. “I need to find him. We need to help him!”
“Paige, stop. You can’t even help yourself,” AJ snapped, and Paige recoiled instantly, even more pissed off.
“Excuse me? I can’t help myself? If it weren’t for me, you’d still be all by yourself in some military base.”
AJ frowned. “I’m sorry, I misspoke,” he apologized, but Paige wasn’t ready to release him off the hook just yet.
“AJ, who are you?” Paige asked abruptly.
A part of her knew this was no time for a serious conversation since the wave was slowly engulfing her, but she needed to know. She needed to feel safe enough around him that she could let him help her.
The questions were very important.
AJ spread his hands away from his body. “I’m the same person I always was. Just a kid from school, your friend.”
Paige pondered that. He didn’t look like he was lying, but how the heck could she know for sure? She didn’t have a lie detector on her. Only her gut feeling.
“Paige, we don’t have time to talk now. Just trust me! Come with me. You’re wasting precious time,” he added, clearly losing patience with her.
Trust him! Paige was very much aware she was wasting time, but it couldn’t be helped. She needed to understand what was happening.
“If you’re just a kid from school, even one of my friends, then how can you be one of them? Please tell me!” Paige countered in exasperation.
She felt so much right then. There were so many opposing thoughts it made her want to scream.
AJ sighed, taking another tentative step in her direction. “I will explain everything when we’re safe. Now please… trust me. The black mass will take you away soon if you waste more time asking questions.” He looked into her eyes, silently pleading with her to trust him while trying to convince her to give in.
Paige needed to know more about him and the bomb he’d just dropped on her, but the wave was already pushing her toward the exit.
There was a deafening whooshing sound that echoed through the empty building. Paige knew what that roar meant. More aliens were coming their way. Soon, the entire apartment would be filled, and even standing close to AJ might not be enough to help her survive that.
Sure enough, the mass around them, around her, started to rise. Paige was running out of time. Seeing no other course of action that wouldn’t end with her being enslaved on an alien ship, Paige decided to surrender to AJ.
Paige slowly nodded. A visibly relieved AJ stepped closer to her, causing the black mass to move away from her immediately.
“Don’t touch me,” Paige said swiftly, raising her hand to prove how serious she was.
He looked a bit hurt, but she wasn’t about to budge on that. She was forced to trust him, but she still pictured him as one of the Shadow Men, with holes in their faces, and that made her jumpy. Even though she’d obviously hurt his feelings by saying that, he abided, stepping even closer but was careful not to touch her.
Paige looked around, trying to see what was happening with the black mass. It was moving away from them completely. Paige felt almost instant relief when it slid off her body and moved away from her.
Maybe it was just her imagination, but she felt like the mass had been reluctant to do so. She wondered if it was even pissed to lose its prize.
Paige couldn’t care less about that. She was just happy it had listened and moved away. Slowly, Paige’s heartbeat started to return to normal.
* * *
“You’re welcome,” Francis said.
Even though he couldn’t see his ugly face, AJ knew that the alien was smiling. He was smug about something.
“FYI, I will never be grateful for anything you do. There will be a cold day in hell before that happens,” AJ snapped back. “But let’s say, for craps and giggles, I’m saying thanks because...” AJ trailed off, knowing Francis would fill in the blanks.
“I eliminated the competition for you. Now Paige is all yours once again,” Francis informed him smugly.
AJ groaned inwardly. Paige already hated his guts right then, and if she learned he was to blame for this alien abduction, his ass would be toast.
“Francis, you are one insane weirdo. Why in the hell’s name would you help me? The last time we spoke, you said you would have us all.”
“Don’t you get it?” Francis countered. “I can do whatever I want, and watching you run around thinking you have the upper hand is amusing.”
AJ didn’t like that they were essentially lab rats, only free because Francis wished it so. That made him pissed off beyond reason.
“You know what, Francis? I am so done with this. No more running! I’m coming for you.”
“How lovely,” Francis responded flatly.
“We’ll see how amusing you find me when I come and bust that ugly face of yours,” AJ screamed back.
With that said, he forced that bastard out of his head. Refocusing on Paige, he was reminded that she still didn’t trust him and was still looking at him funny. It looked like she was waiting for him to shed his own skin and transform into one of them.
That hurt a lot, more than he’d admit right then, but he needed to grow the hell up and prove to her he was still the same guy. Maybe then, when he finally asks her out, she wouldn’t flat out say no. Even better, she wouldn’t try to kill him.
A guy can only hope...
* * *
Paige scooped up her backpack and threw it over her shoulder. AJ slowly led them toward the window they’d originally climbed through.
“Paige, we need to use the fire escape again and leave the building. It’s not safe to stay here any longer, ok?” he said in a single breath. He seemed worried that if he stopped, Paige would freak out again.
“But what about Dave?” she argued. “We can’t just leave him.”
“One problem at a time,” he countered.
Paige hated that idea with every fiber of her being, but she could see the logic in it. Dave was one of them. He was her friend and had helped her countless times since they’d met. Paige wanted to go find him, plain and simple.
That being said, if Paige and AJ were captured as well, then they couldn’t help anyone.
“All right. Let’s go,” Paige replied with a sigh. “But I’m not sure what’s down there.”
She glanced out the window. The streets below appeared to be empty of people and Shadow Men, but she knew enough to know the black wave could be on the ground, invisible because of the darkness. The creatures were good at blending into the real shadows.
“AJ, are the Shadow Men on the streets?” Paige asked, turning toward him.
AJ shrugged. “I don’t know, Paige. I can’t see anything either, so I have no idea,” he admitted, obviously not too pleased about that fact. “We’ll just have to find out when we get down there.”
“Oh, you don’t know anything about your friends? Shouldn’t you know where your alien buddies are?” Paige snapped back.
Unsure of why she was acting so harshly, Paige could only guess it was because her feelings were still hurt because he’d lied to her.
And that my crush turned out to be an alien, she added.
“Please stop saying things like that. They aren’t my friends, and I hate being one of them,” he snapped back,
She instantly felt sorry for opening her mouth in the first place, but she couldn’t make herself tell him that.
Without further words, AJ gingerly stepped onto the fire ladder, looking around to check if it was safe. “It’s all clear,” he reassured her in a hushed voice. “You can come out.”
“Ok,” Paige replied.
“Try to be careful,” he warned as he held out his hand to help her through the window.
“I don’t need your help,” Paige snapped.
They made their way down without a word. It didn’t take them long to reach the ground. She couldn’t see the black mass or the Shadow Men anywhere. At least, not in their near proximity.
Paige worried because their steps had echoed so loudly in the silent city. She knew it would make them easy targets. She paused for a few moments and waited, but no one came rushing.
There was a very good reason for that. The streets were completely void of people and Shadow Men. The city around her was a ghost town. It was as if everyone had been evacuated by the spaceships.
“Come on, let’s go,” AJ urged.
They started walking down the street then turned onto a side alley. Paige kept her distance from AJ. She still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that he was one of them.
But is he really, Paige? she asked herself. He was nothing but kind to you from the start, and you’re treating him like the enemy. Snap out of it!
Soon, they approached the edge of the building, and Paige stopped walking, hesitantly peeking her head around the corner. They needed to be extra cautious and not get caught. They also needed to know what was going on, so they could find Dave.
As she looked out, she spotted people on the main street, moving away from the city. The swirling black mass had them surrounded and pushed them forward.
There were easily hundreds of people in that massive crowd. They seemed to protest, and some tried to get away, but the wave wouldn’t let them free. They were trapped.
Paige watched in wonder and terror as the bright lights suddenly shot down from a spaceship above them. Those trapped within the alien wall was lifted into the sky through the beams.
“Oh, no,” she whispered.
Those who were still on the ground tried to scatter, scared they would be sucked in next, but it didn’t help.
Paige watched with wide eyes as the people who were still on the ground tried to grab hold of the legs of loved ones who were being drawn up, trying to pull them back down, but it was of no use.
Together with the ones they held onto, those people were pulled up into an unknown fate.
Paige noticed as one woman in particular clung onto someone’s legs, someone much smaller. She didn’t let go as the two of them traveled up the beam together. Absentmindedly, Paige edged forward, trying to get a better look.
Even though she was far from the spaceship and the people, Paige knew the little girl was her sister, Willow. She was being transported into the spaceship, and the woman holding her legs was their mother.
No! Not Willow! Not Mom!
With her heart suddenly racing and her breath caught in her throat, Paige ran towards them without another thought.
AJ grabbed her and held her from behind, keeping her in place with all his might.
“Let me go! Let me go!” Paige screamed at the top of her lungs, not caring if everyone heard her while trying to break free. “They’re taking my mom and sister! I have to get them! Please let me go!” She pleaded, frantically trying to break his hold.
“I can’t,” AJ replied calmly.
Paige attempted to shake him off and get free, but AJ was stronger as he pinned her in his arms.
“No!” she screamed in outrage. She needed to get to them now before it was too late.
“Paige, please calm down! They will take you, too, if you go now. Stay calm,” AJ begged. He held both her hands and pressed them against her body as she fought against him with all her might, which she had a lot of.
“I don’t care if they take me! I don’t care!” she yelled at him. “They’ve taken them. Don’t you understand? My mother and sister are on that spaceship! Let them take me, too. They need my help. I need to get on that ship,” Paige practically cried out, but AJ was relentless.
“Look, Paige, you have to stop panicking. Please listen to me.” AJ tried to get her attention. “I will go instead of you. I will get your mother and sister, I promise. I will get on the spaceship without anyone knowing about it,” he offered in desperation.
That made her pause for a heartbeat or two. She’d calmed down, but she was still on high alert, ready for anything. AJ slowly turned her around to face him, still not letting go of her.
“What?” she managed to choke out.
AJ looked right into her eyes, as he held her by the shoulders to calm her. “Let me do this for you,” he said softly.
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