First, we were told we were going to LA, then that we were going home. But California didn’t look like this, and neither did Florida.
“Where the fuck are we?” Fiona asked next to me, her voice wavering. In classic Fiona style, she was trying to put up a tough front, but I knew better. She was scared. And slowly but surely, so was I.
“I don’t know,” I said again, just as unhelpful this time as before. How could I know anything more than she did—and yet my cluelessness still felt like another of my shortcomings, another sign of failure.
Hating this feeling of helplessness, this complete loss of control, I tried to focus on sorting out where we might be. The letters PL were on all the license plates, I’d noticed. Did that stand for a country, and if so, which one?
Winding streets led us through an even denser forest and up some kind of mountain or hill, the turns getting sharper, more precarious, until we took a right onto a smaller, private-looking road. Asphalt gave way to gravel and then a big dark metal fence rose before us with a giant gate decorated with spikes and iron vines and roses. Just to the left of it was a security booth, the door opening as we drew closer. In a way it reminded me of home, the gated community my house was in. But the similarities stopped there.
A middle-aged man with thinning hair, wearing an impeccably clean uniform—white dress shirt, navy tie, and black pants, with polished shoes—stepped out of the booth and walked toward our car. We came to a halt before the gate, the driver lowering his window and greeting the security man in a language I couldn’t understand. It sounded Russian, or something similar, like a slightly whispered rustling, words full of sh and ch sounds with a rough edge to them.
“Welcome back home, Oscar and Kellie,” the security guard said with a smile toward us, in flawless English. Why is he using our new names? “It’s good to see you two again; you were gone a bit longer than expected, weren’t you? Well I’m glad you’re okay and made it back, so I won’t hold you up too long. Surely you’re tired and want to go inside and relax.”
Fiona and I just stared at him, which didn’t seem to bother him. He walked back to his booth casually as if all of this was normal. But nothing he’d said made sense.
Soundlessly the metal gate began to swing inward, the driver closing his window before setting the car back into motion.
“Miles…” Fiona said, gripping my hand. She didn’t finish, and I didn’t need her to.
“I’m here,” I told her. Because this much I knew: “Whatever this is, we’re facing it together.”