“Umm, Max, can I talk to you?” Tess said softly.
“Now?” he asked surprised.
“Yeah,” she said, “just for a minute.”
“Well,” he started, “Liz has some tickets, and we were going to redeem them…”
Liz cut him off. “Go ahead,” she encouraged. “I’ll meet you over at the redemption booth when you’re finished.”
He searched her face, trying to see if she was okay, and then looked down the row to the redemption booth. It was at the end of the aisle, but he could see it clearly so she wouldn’t be out of his sight. Even though she was safe now, he was still feeling protective, and he didn’t want to take his eyes off her.
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll just be over here if you need anything.”
Tess waited until Liz was a few feet away before she started talking. “Max, I’ve done something...”
“Hmmmm?” he hummed.
She trailed off when she saw she didn’t have his full attention. His eyes were following Liz as she walked away.
This was going to be harder than she thought. “You really love her, don’t you?” she sighed.
“What?” Max asked, finally focusing on her.
“You love Liz,” Tess said, again. “Even after she was with Kyle.”
Max nodded. “I don’t think she really slept with him. I think it was another setup to push me away. But even when I did think she’d slept with Kyle, I still loved her.”
She nodded, taking in his answer. “And you’ll never love me, will you? There’s no chance for us at all.”
He held her eyes. “I’m sorry, Tess, but I just don’t have those kinds of feelings for you.”
She smiled grimly. “I thought when you spent some time with me, and got to know me, that you’d change your mind. I thought if you weren’t with Liz…”
Max’s eyes flicked from Liz to Tess and focused on her, showing sorrow and pity, and Tess looked away.
“Um”, she continued, “I thought if you weren’t with Liz, maybe we’d have a chance. So I did something.”
Max looked at her properly. “What do you mean you did something?”
“Max, please,” she said, “you have to forgive me. I didn’t mean for it to get this far.”
Liz struggled against her attacker, trying everything she could think of. She hit him with her elbows, but he simply changed his grip, pinning her arms to her sides. She tried to scream around his hand, but hardly any sound escaped.
She kicked at him, trying to hurt his legs, but he just pulled more quickly, keeping her off balance. She tried to bite his hand holding her mouth, but he kept his fingers clear of her teeth.
He simply chuckled, whispering into her ear as he pulled her into the shadows. “I knew you’d be a fighter.”
Over his hand she watched horrified across the room where Max and Tess were still talking. She silently begged him to look at her, but they seemed to be in an intense conversation. And the last thing she saw as she was dragged backward out of the room, was the heavy gymnasium door closing and cutting off her view of Max and any hope of escape.
Max’s brow creased in confusion. “What did you do, Tess? What has gone too far?”
She could see the concern on his face. “Ummm,” she started. She was afraid of his reaction. What if he didn’t forgive her? Max, Michael and Isabel were the only family she had. What if they didn’t understand why she’d done it?
When she didn’t answer right away, Max assumed the worst. He took her by the shoulders. “What did you do that was so bad? Did you have something to do with Tommy coming after Liz?”
Liz continued to struggle as her captor dragged her farther and farther away from the gym, and her best chance at rescue, but it wasn’t any use. He was just too strong.
She wondered where he was taking her. It seemed to be taking a long time, but in her panicked state it might only be a few moments.
She tried to remember which way they were going, but she thought she must be in shock, because she was hallucinating.
Walls seemed to dissolve behind them and then reform after she was pulled through them. It was impossible.
But why would an alien be doing this, and who was it?
Finally she was dragged down some stairs, through a corridor she didn’t recognize, and into another door. Looking around quickly, she scanned the area for any type of weapon, vaguely realizing she was in some kind of large room. She thought it might be the maintenance workers’ room. There were lockers along one wall, all kinds of equipment, tools and parts on several tables, and three desks with papers and other items on them.
It was dingy but clean and looked like it was used regularly.
Surely, she thought, there was something she could use to get away. But she was thrown completely off balance when she was abruptly released.
She almost fell to the ground, but kept her footing, and spun around to face her abductor.
With a gasp of shock, she took in his familiar face and the hockey jersey he was wearing.
It was Michael.
But one look at his eyes was enough to tell her it wasn’t really him. They were cold and hard, and he looked at her in a way Michael never had.
A smile raised the corners of his mouth, and before her eyes a shimmering started across his body, like heat waves rising off the desert on a summer day.
The transformation only took a moment, and Liz gasped again. “It’s you!”
Tess shook her head. “No, Max. I don’t have anything to do with that, I swear. I wouldn’t put Liz in danger or do anything to hurt her.”
She sighed, realizing just how low an opinion Max had of her, and she was about to justify it. “I’m just afraid you won’t forgive me for what I did.”
He waited, his eyes never leaving her, and she fidgeted as she worked up the courage to speak.
She never thought she was going to confess the truth, but after her talk with Isabel she’d done a lot of thinking. She really had no idea how deep Max’s feelings were for Liz until she started watching him.
Whenever Max looked at Liz, Tess could see the yearning and sorrow in his eyes. It was hurting him to not be with Liz.
And when she was with them tonight, she could see how happy it made Max to be around Liz. She could see how happy it made them both.
Max was so open and comfortable with the small brunette. It was like Liz allowed him to be his true self. He’d never been like that with her. He was always so cautious, suspicious and guarded, and she knew he never would be any different.
He loved Liz, not her. She realized now that would never change.
So she’d decided Isabel was right. She had to let go of the fairytale and start living her life. She couldn’t wait for something that wasn’t going to happen, and she couldn’t force Max to love her.
She just hoped her actions hadn’t ruined her chance to be with her family.
Tess started again. “Like I said, I thought we might have a chance if you weren’t with Liz,” she trailed off, sighing. “So I made sure you weren’t with her.”
Max shook his head. “What do you mean?”
Tess looked away. “I could see that you weren’t giving up on Liz, so I had to make her give up on you.”
She glanced at him and could see the confusion on his face.
“I mindwarped Liz,” she explained. “I showed her a future version of you, who came back in time to tell her, um, that she had to break up with you.”
“What?” Max asked, horrified.
“I made the Future you tell her that if you stayed together, I would leave town, and you wouldn’t be strong enough without me to defeat our enemies.” She looked away again. “He told her if she was with you, the world would end and we would all die.”
Max’s face showed his revulsion. “That’s why she broke up with me? Because she thought we’d all die and the world would end? I can’t believe you did that, Tess,” he said angrily. “Liz would think it was all her fault. How could you?”
“I’m sorry,” Tess apologized softly. “I didn’t think…”
Max cut her off. “You never do think about anyone but yourself,” he snapped. “All you care about is what you want, and screw everyone else.”
He shook his head. “Liz tried to be nice to you. She tried to set you up with me. It must have been torture for her.”
“I’m sorry,” Tess said again.
“It’s not me you should be apologizing to,” Max growled, “it’s Liz.”
“She’s the one you did this to...” he said, looking over to the redemption booth, but trailed off when he didn’t see her. “Where is she?” he said concerned.
A feeling of dread filled him and he instantly sprinted over to the booth, scanning the area as he went. No one was around, not even the booth operator.
Skidding to a stop in front of the table, he saw the orange sack on the ground, and nearby there was a latex bra and panties. Picking them up, his blood ran cold when he saw the note attached.
“Max,” Tess called out, hurrying to join him. “What’s wrong?”
Max looked at her, his face pale. “The killer is here, and he has Liz.”
The hockey shirt the killer was wearing disappeared, replaced by a ripped black t-shirt, and his hair stood up into a kind of spiky Mohawk. He had thick sideburns and a scruffy beard, but his face was basically the same.
“Rath,” Liz said, shaking her head disbelievingly. “You’re the one who did all this?”
He smirked. “That’s right, princess.”
“But why?” she asked.
“Because I want you,” he said, moving closer. “I’ve wanted you since the moment I first saw your picture in Max’s room.”
“I don’t understand,” Liz said, confused. “Why did you kill those women?”
He ducked his head looking almost sheepish, like a little boy who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “I get a little carried away sometimes,” he said. “I get too rough.”
“But I won’t be like that with you,” he rushed to assure her.
As he looked up and down her body, a smile crossed his face that made Liz really uncomfortable.
He winked at her. “I might get a little rough sometimes, but I’ll make sure you enjoy it,” he purred, coming closer to her. “I’ll train you to like it a bit rough. You’re an uptight good-girl now, but I can make you into a little freak, and soon you’ll be begging me for it.”
Liz shivered, backing up, his words making her feel sick. Looking around quickly, she noticed there was only one door, and he was between her and it.
She quickly changed the subject, trying to get his mind off sex. “But what about Lonnie?” she said. “She won’t like you being with me.”
Rath chuckled. “Lonnie never minded before. Besides, she took off with Nicholas.” He shrugged. “Guess she thought she might have a better choice of getting home with him. And if I’m stuck on this rock, then I’m going to live like a king, and have everything I want,” he held her eyes, “like you.”
Liz nodded, digesting the information, and decided that keeping him talking was the best thing. “What do you mean Lonnie didn’t mind before? You cheated on her?”
He shook his head. “Naw, it wasn’t cheating, not exactly. Sometimes I just need to get a little out of control, so I’d go out and find a human girl. But I’d always kill her afterward, so it’s not like it was serious or anything.”
Another shiver rushed through Liz. She could imagine how many unsolved rapes and murders in New York could be because of Rath’s ‘roughness.’ And he seemed to think that killing the girls was actually a sort of apology for cheating.
“I might need to let off a little steam occasionally,” he continued, “but I’ll always come back to you, princess.”
“Why are you calling me that?” she asked.
“Well,” he said with a shrug, “I’m the man, I’m the king, and since you’re mine that makes you a princess.”
He had come back to dangerous territory again, and Liz spoke up. “Um, you know Max will be looking for me.”
“That scrub,” Rath laughed. “He’s useless.”
He came closer again, reaching out to her. “I thought he might have taken you when he got back from New York, but I can see that you’re still cherry. I’ll be your first and only. I’ll show you what a real man is like.”
Winking, he jutted his chin at her. “And you’ll be even more fun when you get your full powers.”
Liz shied away from his hand. “What?” she asked alarmed. How did he know?
“I saw you in New York,” he said. “You connected with Max clear across the country, saved his life. I realized he must have changed you, but I’m going to enjoy the benefits, not Maxie. There’s nothing like alien sex.”
She backed away, shaking her head. “Max loves me. He won’t stop looking.”
Rath shrugged. “I took care of Zan, I can take care of the other boy king.”
He reached for her again, smiling, but she stepped out of his way. She knew Max would be looking for her, and she had to keep Rath distracted until he found her. “Um, I still don’t understand. Why did you send me the suckers?”
“No,” he said raising his voice, and shaking his head, “not suckers, lollipops.”
“Um, right,” she agreed to placate him. “Lollipops.”
He paced a little as he talked, using his hands in large gestures as he explained. “I couldn’t stop thinking about when I kissed you,” he said. “Your lips were so sweet, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Then I saw that you were getting powers, and I knew you and me would be even hotter in the sack than me and Lonnie.”
“I heard that song, Lollipop, on a commercial,” he continued, “and I thought, that’s it, you’re sweet like candy. So I sent you the lollipops to let you know I was coming for you,” he said.
His eyes met hers as he stopped. “You’re like a lollipop that I want to lick all over.”
Quickly Max looked around, trying to see what might have happened to Liz.
It only took him moments to find Jerry and Mac behind the booth. At first he thought they were dead, but quickly realized they were only unconscious.
He spied the door in the shadows a moment later.
He’d completely forgotten it was there. It led out the back of the gym but was usually locked. He jogged to it and found it open. Obviously the killer had taken Liz out that way.
Trying not to think about how scared Liz was or what might be happening to her, he pushed through the door.
Tess was right behind him, and she could see how worried he was. “We’ll find her, Max,” she assured him. “They can’t have gotten far.”
Liz wasn’t really a friend of hers, but Tess knew she was a good person and she didn’t want anything to happen to her, especially for Max’s sake.
Together, Tess and Max rushed down the hallway, checking the few rooms they came across. One of them led under the bleachers but was blocked with a heavy metal gate, and another was a small office that was being used as a storeroom for athletic equipment.
Max had never been in that part of the school, and he had no idea where the hallway went, but it didn’t take long to come to the end.
Finally they came to the last door, and Max burst through it, only to find himself in a small closet stuffed with books.
“What the hell?” he spat. “Where did they go?”
Tess shook her head. “I don’t know. They couldn’t have gotten out this way.”
“And,” Max said, “there is no way they could have gotten past us in the gym. They had to come this way.”
“Max,” Tess said, “you don’t think the killer could be an alien, do you?”
He looked at her like she was speaking a different language.
“Well,” she continued, “the only thing that could have gotten out of this hall would be an alien. He could use his powers to go through a wall, or through the floor.”
Max grasped the implications immediately. “It would be easy for an alien to set up Tommy, and it would explain why he was so disoriented. But it means the killer could have taken Liz anywhere.”
He was examining the walls as if he could see where they had gone through.
“Who could it be though?” Tess said. “It’s not like there are that many of us running around.”
“We don’t know how many Skins there are left,” Max said, “and there’s Nicholas…” he trailed off, whipping around to face Tess. “It’s Rath!”
Liz walked a couple of steps away from Rath. Again she’d accidentally brought the conversation to a dangerous place. “So that’s why you sent the lyrics.”
“And the gifts,” he said with a grin. “I’ll teach you how to use all of that stuff, and I can’t wait to see you in that bra and panties.”
“But,” she hurried on, changing the subject, “you couldn’t have known I’d be here tonight, or that I’d be alone.”
“I thought maybe you wouldn’t come at all,” he agreed. “Especially after Max started spending the night with you, and you got the police escort.”
“You saw all that,” she gasped.
“Sure,” he continued. “I was watching the whole time.”
He chuckled. “I wasn’t ready to get you yet, but I couldn’t stay away. I disguised myself as Michael, of course, but I was at the Crashdown, and at your school, and I even got a room in the building across from you balcony.”
Liz shivered again at the thought he’d been watching so closely, but didn’t interrupt. She wanted to keep him talking.
“I thought Max might take you that night he stayed in your room,” he continued, “and I was pissed he would have you first, but I should have known he’s too much of a pussy.”
A smiled raised the corners of his mouth. “I was ready to have you by then, but I realized I’d screwed up. I couldn’t get you alone, if you were never alone. So I set up that Tommy guy from your school, and then the police left you, and Max left.”
“And how did you know I’d come to the carnival?” she asked.
“I didn’t,” he said. “I was ready for you if you did, but even if you didn’t, I would have gotten you alone eventually.”
“Rath?” Tess said surprised, “but…”
Max cut her off. “He wanted Liz when he was here,” he explained. “He let her think he was Michael and kissed her against her will.”
He paced back and forth. “He killed Zan, and he was ready to kill Ava, and me, and probably you too. I can’t imagine it would be a big leap for him to rape and kill women.”
“We have to find Liz, fast,” he said. “But where would he take her? An alley somewhere?”
His whole body went cold just thinking about it.
Rath took determined steps towards her, and Liz said the first thing she could think of to keep him talking.
“Why did you wait to come get me?” she asked. “Why not let me know you were in town right away?”
He grinned. “I wanted you too much, and I was afraid that I’d be too rough. So I had to, um, work off some energy.”
Liz knew instantly what he meant. He’d raped and killed those girls because he hadn’t wanted to be too rough with her.
She felt sick again.
“Now,” he said, “I’m ready to spend all my time with you.”
Liz backed up again, shaking her head. “Rath, I’m my own person, I don’t belong to you.”
“Not yet,” he said, smiling, “but you will soon.”
“No,” she said. “I love Max.”
He shrugged, still walking toward her. “You’ll forget him soon enough.”
She looked around for any weapon, or any way to escape, but her attention was brought back to Rath as he chuckled.
“Oh yeah, princess,” he purred, “make a run for it. I’d love it if you put up a fight.”
Liz started shaking. She didn’t know what to do.
“Where are you going to take me?” she blurted out. “People will be looking for me.”
“Thought I’d just have you here tonight,” he said.
Waving his hand over a desk, he changed the papers on it into various items he’d sent her, handcuffs, a collar with a leash, nipple clips, a gag, a latex bra and panties, and several other items she didn’t recognize. Walking to the next desk, he repeated the action, but turned it into a large bed with black linens and a wrought iron headboard.
Desperately Liz looked around for any escape, as she backed away from him.
He picked up the handcuffs, twirling them around. “And then we’ll go back to New York, and we’ll get a place of our own. No more keeping a low profile and living underground. I’ll get us a nice place, fit for a king and his woman, and I’ll give you anything you want, clothes, jewelry, cars.”
Suddenly he surged forward faster than she thought possible, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her to him. “Of course I’ll have to keep you chained up for a while, until you won’t try to run.”
He closed a hand around one of her wrists, slipping a handcuff onto it, and clicked it shut.
Surprised and horrified, Liz jerked away, spinning, and stumbled against a table behind her. Her hands went out to break her fall, and landed on a large wrench. Instantly she grabbed it and swung around as hard as she could, hitting Rath in the head.
He grunted and staggered, going to one knee, and Liz ran for the door.
Tess swallowed her pride, and felt the last of her dreams dissolving. Max had never belonged to her and she had to accept that. He loved Liz, and they had a strong bond she couldn’t deny.
Surprisingly she was really worried about Liz too, and she didn’t want anything to happen to her. Liz had tried to be nice to her, and tried to help her. Now she could help Liz.
“You can find her, Max,” Tess said, “through your connection. Just like Liz found you in New York.”
He looked at her. “I don’t know how to do that.”
She nodded. “I can help you.”
Liz had no idea where she was. She only remembered coming down a flight of stairs but she didn’t know where it was. Racing through the door, she plunged into a dimly lit hallway.
The corridor looked the same in both directions. Her eyes were still growing accustomed to the darkness, and she tried to see anything that looked familiar. Taking a few tenuous steps, she knew she couldn’t afford to go the wrong way, but she had to hurry, Rath would be right behind her.
Almost immediately she realized she was going the wrong direction, because there were no stairs in sight. She turned to go back, but a loud groan from Rath made her run.
Hoping the darkness would confuse him too, she tried to be as quiet as possible.
She could hear scuffling as he came out of the room.
“Oh yeah, princess,” he called out, “make me work for it! I knew you’d be fun!”
Frantically Liz looked for a fire alarm, an exit door, or any kind of weapon. She was still holding the wrench, but she didn’t know if she could get close enough to use it again.
Her heart was racing. She couldn’t hear Rath behind her, and she didn’t know if that was good or not.
Going around a corner, she slowed as she came to a door. Quietly she tried the knob, but it was locked.
Racing on, she tried to think. If she found an open room should she try to hide? People in horror movies always got caught when they did. She knew it was crazy taking advice from a movie, but she didn’t have any other reference.
If she could get inside a room and lock it… No, that wouldn’t work. She had to remember she was running from an alien. He could simply use his powers to open the door, or go through the wall.
But, she thought, that might slow Rath down, if he was checking every locked room to see if she was inside.
In the distance, she thought she heard jogging footsteps, and she couldn’t help think how similar the situation was to the dream she had. She’d been in the school basement, running from the killer, trying to find a way out.
Max had woken her up before she saw the end, and she had to hope he would find her now before Rath got her again. Surely Max had discovered she was missing by now. But how would he know where to look for her?
And she couldn’t help wondering where the corridor she was following would end. Was there a door out, or would it simply dead end in another locked room?
Rath’s voice cut through the silence again. “I’m coming for you, Lollipop!” he bellowed. “It won’t be long now!”
“Take a deep breath,” Tess said to Max, “and concentrate on Liz. Remember what it felt like when you connected with her, and just reach out to her to do the same thing.”
He closed his eyes and did as she said. It was weird trying to connect with Liz this way. In the past he’d always been touching her, and he didn’t even know it was possible over a distance.
In his head, he replayed exactly how he’d felt their minds and souls joining when he connected with her.
For a moment he thought nothing was happening and concentrated harder. Liz’s life was at stake. And then he felt momentarily as if he was floating and his eyes snapped open.
Liz kept running, turning another corner, but slowed when she saw another door. The sign on it said, ‘Boiler Room’, and she kept going without even trying the door. The last thing she needed was to get trapped inside a boiler room.
“There’s no way out!” Rath called out with a chuckle.
Looking around, Liz tried to figure out where the voice was coming from, but it seemed to echo all around her.
Moving forward, she slowed her pace, to be as quiet as possible, and kept to the shadows as much as she could.
She passed two more doors, which were locked, and saw a fire extinguisher on the wall that she momentarily considered taking. But she knew it would be heavy, and she thought it might be more of a burden than a help.
Again she couldn’t help thinking about how similar her current situation was to the dream she had. She was running from an unseen pursuer, down an unfamiliar hallway in the school, and he seemed to be getting closer. She just wished she’d seen how the dream ended.
Rath’s voice echoed through the hallway again. “I’m getting closer, princess!”
She could tell he was enjoying the chase and it terrified her. What if she couldn’t get away from him? She didn’t even want to think about what he was planning.
Continuing on, she listened intently for any sign of Rath, but strange noises were coming from all directions, and she realized it was the heavy equipment that ran the school. The sounds of the machinery and plumbing would mask his approach.
But she had to keep going. It was her only chance.
Her heart started to drop, when she saw ahead that the hallway turned again.
She had already made two right turns, and the corridor was going right a third time. The hallway was just a giant square, leading back to where she started.
Stopping in the shadows, she considered what to do.
If Rath knew where it went, he could simply be waiting for her near the stairs. On the other hand, if he didn’t know, then he could be following behind her, and she would have a chance to make a run for it.
Of course, the voice in her head said, Rath might have gone the other direction, and she was walking right toward him.
She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself and her racing heart. She had to figure out where Rath was, and the best way to do that was listen.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of light, and whipped around, recoiling instinctively, thinking it was Rath.
But instead she saw a soft glow, almost like light reflecting on smoke, which rapidly coalesced into a familiar shape.
“Max!” she gasped.
When Max opened his eyes, he was surprised to find himself in a hallway, facing Liz. She whirled toward him, alarmed, but relaxed when she saw him.
He saw her mouth move, obviously saying his name, but couldn’t hear her, and remembered that he couldn’t hear her when she came to him in New York.
Concentrating on her harder, he focused all of his power on the connection. “Liz,” he said, “can you hear me?”
She nodded. “It’s Rath,” she whispered, talking quickly. “I got away from him, but I’m stuck down here. The only way out is the stairs.”
“Where are you?” Max asked, looking around, not recognizing anything.
“I don’t know really,” Liz said. “In the basement of the school somewhere. The boiler room is back there,” she whispered, motioning behind her. “I have no idea how we got here. I think he dissolved some walls and pulled us through.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Rath’s bellowing voice. “I know where you are, princess.”
Liz looked around nervously, and turned back to Max. “Hurry,” she said. “I don’t know how much longer I can stay away from him.”
A helpless feeling rushed through Max. He had no idea where the door to the basement was, but he wouldn’t let Liz down. He held her eyes. “I’m coming for you. I won’t let him hurt you.”
She nodded, smiling weakly, and reached out to him. And even though he wasn’t really there, he swore he could feel her. Somehow he knew the tension in her body lessened a little.
He didn’t want to leave her alone, but the sooner he broke the connection, the sooner he would be with her. With a sigh, he let himself go back into his body, and when he opened his eyes, he was back with Tess.
He focused on her. “I know where Liz is.”
Liz watched Max dissolve and shook in reaction. For a moment she’d felt safe, but now she was all alone again. At least Max knew where she was, and he was coming for her.
Suddenly the sound of whistling filled the air, and she looked one way and then the other, trying to figure out where Rath was.
The dim lights and her fear seemed to make the shadows move and the walls close in. Every small sound made her jump, but she had to push the sensations away and keep her head.
Once again she looked both directions, making sure she was alone, then she turned back toward the upcoming bend in the hallway. If she was right, she was only one corridor away from the stairs. She had the overwhelming need to look around the corner and see if Rath was down there.
If he wasn’t, maybe she could make a run for it.
Slowly she started toward the hallway, careful to stay in the shadows. Her heartbeat increased with every step she took, knowing she could come face-to-face with Rath too.
Suddenly she was grabbed from behind and pulled against a hard body, as a rough voice spoke in her ear. “Gotcha, princess.”
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