Home > Origins (Alphas 0.5)

Origins (Alphas 0.5)
Author: Ilona Andrews

CHAPTER 1


Karina Tucker took a deep breath. “Jacob, do not hit Emily again. Emily, let go of his hair. Don’t make me stop this car!”

Her daughter’s face swung into the rearview mirror, outraged as only a six-year-old could be. “Mom, he started it!”

“I don’t care who started it. If you don’t be quiet right now, things will happen!”

“What things?” Melissa whined. Megan, her twin, stuck her tongue out.

Karina furrowed her eyebrows, trying to look mean in the rearview mirror. “Horrible things.”

The four children quieted in the back of the van, trying to figure out what “horrible things” meant. The quiet wouldn’t last. Karina drove on. The next time Jill called to ask her if she would chaperone a gaggle of first graders for a school field trip, she would claim to have the bubonic plague instead.

The trip itself wasn’t that awful. The sun shone bright, and the drive down to the old-timey village, forty-five minutes from Chikasha, was downright pleasant. Nothing but clear sky and flat Oklahoma fields with an occasional thin line of forest between them to break the wind. But now, after a day of hayrides and watching butter being churned and iron nails being hammered, the kids were tired and cranky. They’d been on the road for twenty minutes and the lot of them had already engaged in a World War III–scale conflict three times. She imagined the other parents hadn’t fared any better. As the six cars made their way up the rural road, Karina could almost hear the whining emanating from the vehicles ahead of her.

They should have just gotten a school bus. But Jill had panicked half of the parents over the bus not having seat belts. In retrospect, the whole thing seemed silly. Thousands of children rode school buses every day with no problems, seat belts or not. Unfortunately, creating panic was one of her best friend’s talents. Jill meant well, but her life was a string of self-created emergencies, which she then cheerfully overcame. Usually Karina pulled her off the edge of the cliff, but with Emily involved, it was hard to maintain perspective.

This pointless worry really had to stop. Emily wasn’t made of glass. Eventually Karina would have to let her go on a trip or to a sleepover without her mommy. The thought made Karina squirm. After Jonathan died, she’d taken Emily to a grief counselor, who offered to work with her as well. Karina had turned it down. She’d already been through it, when her parents passed away, and it hadn’t made things any easier.

Her cell beeped. Karina pushed the button on her hands-free set. “Yes?”

“How are you holding up?” Jill’s voice chirped.

“Fantastic.” Would be even better if she didn’t have to talk on the phone while driving. “You?”

“I need to go potty!” Jacob announced from the back.

“Robert called Savannah a B word. Other than that we’re good,” Jill reported.

“I really need to go. Or I’ll poop in my pants. And then there’ll be a big stain . . .”

“Listen, Jacob needs to go potty.” She caught sight of a dark blue sign rising above the trees. “I’m going to pull over at the motel ahead of you.”

“What motel?”

“The one on the right. With the big blue sign, says Motel Sunrise?”

“Where?” Jill’s voice came through tinted with static. “I don’t see it.”

“I don’t see a motel,” Megan reported.

“Look at the blue sign.” Emily pointed at the window.

“Well, I don’t see it,” Jacob declared.

“That’s because you’re a doofus,” Emily said.

“You suck!”

“Quiet!” Karina barked.

The exit rolled up on her right. Karina angled the car into it. “I’m taking this exit,” she said to the cell phone. “I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

“What exit? Karina, where are you? You were right there and now you’re gone. I don’t see you in my rearview mirror . . .”

“That’s because I took the exit.”

“What exit?”

Oh, for the love of God. “I’ll talk to you later.”

The paved road brought them to a two-story building covered with dark gray stucco. Only one car, an old Jeep, sat in the parking lot.

Karina pulled up before the entrance and hesitated. The building, a crude box with small narrow windows, looked like some sort of institutional structure, an office, or even a prison. It certainly didn’t look inviting.

“Now I see it,” Megan said.

Karina shook her head. You’d think if you owned a motel, you’d want to make it seem hospitable. Plant some flowers, maybe choose a nice color for the walls, something other than battleship gray. It only made good business sense. As it was, the place radiated a grim, almost menacing air. She had a strong urge to just keep on driving.

“I have to go!” Jacob announced and farted.

Karina jumped out of the van and slid the door open. “Out.”

Fifteen seconds later, she herded them inside a small lobby. The lone woman standing behind the counter turned her head at their approach. She was skeletally thin, with long red hair dripping down past her shoulders. Karina glanced at her face and almost marched back out. The woman had eyes like a rattlesnake, no compassion, no kindness, no anger. Nothing at all.

“I’m sorry,” Karina said. “Could we please use your facilities? The little boy needs to go to the bathroom.”

The woman nodded to the archway on Karina’s right. Charming. That’s okay. They just needed to get in and get out. “Thank you! Come on, kids.”

The archway opened into a long hallway. On the left, several doors punctuated the wall, one marked “Bathroom” and another, at the very end, marked “Stairs.” On the right an older man stood in the middle of the hallway. Heavily muscled, with a face like a bulldog, he’d planted himself as if he were about to be overrun by rioters. His eyes watched her with open malice. The kids sensed it, too, and clustered around her. Karina didn’t blame them.

“Hi!”

The man said nothing.

Okay. She marched to the bathroom and swung the door open. A single-person bathroom, relatively clean. No scary strangers hiding anywhere. “In you go.” She ushered Jacob inside and stood guard by the door.

Minutes ticked off, long and viscous. The man hadn’t moved. The children kept quiet under his scrutiny, like tiny rabbits sensing a predator.

Karina knocked on the door gently. “Come on, Jacob. Let the other kids have a turn.”

“Almost done.”

Karina waited. The man kept staring at her. Gradually his face took on a new expression. Instead of staring her down, he was now studying her as if she were some bizarre alien life-form. That was even more disturbing. Karina fought a shiver.

“Jacob, we need to go.”

She heard the toilet flush. Finally.

Jacob emerged from the bathroom. “I washed my hands with soap,” he informed her. “Do you want to smell them?”

“No. Does anybody else need to go?”

They shook their heads. Emily hugged her leg. “I want to go home, Mom.”

“Excellent idea.” Karina led them down the hallway.

The man moved to block their way. “Thank you for letting us use the bathroom,” Karina said. “We’ll be on our way now.”

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