Opening Move: Chapter One


I crawled up the back end of the old, beat-up ranch truck and over the big dent in the tailgate. The truck squeaked, settling under my weight. I wondered how long ago we should’ve replaced the truck’s shocks for the half second it took to look around for my younger sister, Alyssa.

She stuck her head out the door of the local burger joint long enough to yell at me.

“Calm down, Emily. I haven’t been kidnapped. It’s just taking Carlos a few extra minutes to drop fresh fries.”

She whipped herself back inside the door without waiting for a reply. I crossed my arms over my chest and tapped my foot on the layers of hay and baling wire blanketing the bed of my truck. I grabbed an empty feed sack from the flattened pile in another corner while I waited for Alyssa to stop flirting and bring out our dinner.

I grabbed handfuls of bailing wire from the truck bed and bent them into compact bundles which I stuffed into the waxed, paper feed sack. Alyssa returned just as I finished. She carried two paper bags speckled with ever-expanding grease stains.

“What are you doing up there? Can’t you just relax for five minutes?”

“I got bored while you were flirting with Carlos.”

“Carlos is a fascinating man.”

“Carlos is a very pretty, empty package you’d tire of as soon as you tried to have a conversation.”

I hopped over the side of the truck, landing heavy on my work boots. Though covered in mud, hay, and probably cow shit, I hadn’t had time to change them. We’d just dropped off ten heads of steer at the closest auction barn earlier. Five hours later, neither Alyssa, nor I wanted to cook once we finally got home and out of the truck’s seat for the night.

I crawled into the dusty cab, buckled up, and checked my mirrors with great care. I put the diesel into first gear and crawled up to second. The truck moved slowly. The trailer we hauled behind us might’ve been empty, but it was still big and awkward.

We pulled out of the parking lot, cutting over to the market road leading out of town and to the ranch we inherited from our grandfather. We rolled the windows down by hand and Alyssa looked at me. She spoke around a mouthful of fries.

“We should get a new truck, Emily. This thing’s damn near an antique.”

“It was Grandpa’s and it still runs just fine.”

“I miss him, too, but, one day, this thing is gonna finally die.”

“Hush, Aly. Don’t you listen to her. You’re a good truck. Just get us home, baby.”

I patted the dusty dash. Alyssa rolled her eyes. The truck’s power died.

“What the fuck?”

“I didn’t do it…”

“Aly! Help me with the wheel! Power steering went out…”

Alyssa grabbed the wheel, helping me correct as best we could. The weight of the trailer pushed the truck along the road, though the engine had lost power with the lights. We jerked the wheel, trying to keep the truck and trailer from rolling or jackknifing behind us.

Even with our best efforts, the truck slid to a stop nose-first in a ditch. Alyssa and I stared at each other in the darkness of a Texas backroad. No one would drive down this road again for hours. There’d be no passersby, no help…besides, even if there was someone to stop and help, I always wondered if I could trust them.

“You okay, Aly?”

“I think so. Might have a seatbelt bruise, but nothing serious.”

“Good. Let’s get out of here, okay? This thing is at a bad angle to climb out the top…”

Alyssa nodded, unbuckling herself. She carefully opened the front passenger door, and slid down onto the wildflowers choking the thick, wiry grasses. She turned to me, flashing a quick, “be brave” smile.

I unbuckled myself and contorted my body ‘til I slid out next to her. We collected our purses and Grandpa’s rifle from the gun rack behind the truck’s bench seat. I took a quick walk around the trailer.

“I’m calling the sheriff, Emily. Don’t worry. We can’t get it out of here without a tractor, anyway. What the fuck?”

I turned back to look at her. She shook her phone, pushed buttons, and got nothing. The phone refused to work. The truck’s old, steel body panels rattled. I felt a deep, throbbing vibration shake the ground under my feet.

The trailer’s inner, steel-pipe gates shook loose of their latches, slamming against the side. Alyssa and I ducked, trying to put some distance between us and the truck. A bright light shot from the sky over us, blinding me. I threw my arm in front of my eyes.

I squinted around my arm, flailing with my empty hand, searching for Aly. I felt her flailing hand grip mine and we pulled ourselves together. I held her tight. Small rocks floated around us. Our two bodies began to rise into the air.

I tried to scream to Alyssa, to tell her I loved her, but no human could hear anything over the sound of whatever hung heavy in the air above us.

Then everything went black.

Someone shoved my shoulder. I pushed them away, not wanting to wake. Then a vision of overpowering light jolted me to consciousness. Aly looked down at me, face terrified. I grabbed at her, so happy to wake and find her still alive.

“Aly! Aly, what happened?”

“I have no clue, but we’re not alone and there’s someone coming.”

Well, that was never good.

I scrambled up, crouching into a defensible position next to my sister. I looked around, hoping to gather some clue as to where we found ourselves. Little light streamed into the container around us.

The beam, which had woken me, must’ve been a fluke—sheer chance. I noticed air vents on one wall, but no windows.

Before I could notice anything more, the door opened, and my mind was taken up by other things.

Giant—things—monsters—grotesque, humanoid creatures stepped in and roared. One grabbed the nearest person—another human woman— and shoved her out the door. He looked at us and waved.

I was all about fighting back, but at the moment, all I could do was stay standing.

Heart in my throat, I held Alyssa’s hand as tightly as I dared and we followed the first woman.

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