Lily had seen the first bombs fall on live TV. This was not TV.
They weren’t nukes this time either though, which was a slight relief, since Lily didn’t want to be vaporized. But they were powerful enough to rock the ground and throw her into a ditch on the side of the road. She landed flat on her face, almost breaking her nose, and then covered her head as hot debris rained down upon her. Nothing sharp struck her skin, thankfully, but her ears were ringing so loudly she was afraid her eardrums had been damaged.
When the quaking lessened, Lily stuck her head up out of the ditch and quickly scanned the area. The homes about thirty feet down the road had been blown to smithereens, nothing left but burning chunks of wood and gouge-like foundations lined with crumbled stone. There were bodies in the yards and on the roadway, people who’d failed to flee the blast radius in time. Lily felt sick looking at their burned corpses, but they weren’t anyone she knew. She’d never actually been to Leitchfield before today.
Of course this was the day when the army would attack the town in an attempt to quash the rebels who lived in the area. Not that Lily thought the army would nab very many of those. They had good intelligence networks, she’d heard, and lots of underground safe houses and tunnels. Most of the people who’d died in this bombing run were regular civilians. Innocent people.
Lily scrutinized the sky, searching for the jets who’d destroyed the neighborhood, but they were probably hiding behind the ever-present cloud cover—and she couldn’t hear them approaching with her ears out of commission. Damn it. I’ll have to make a run for it and hope they don’t see me.
She was on a street on the outer edges of Leitchfield and had been heading for a particular Laundromat in the center of town—a front for the rebellion—when the jets came screaming overhead. She didn’t know if the store was still intact. Smoke billowed up into the air from a dozen locations in the town proper, including two or three places along what Lily thought to be the main street. There’d be a lot of traffic heading that way as she walked past the town limits. She wondered how many of their occupants had been wiped off the face of the earth.
Movement straight down the street, toward downtown, caught her attention. Men in black emerging from a helicopter that had landed on the roof of a grocery store. Now that everyone was stunned from the bombing run, the soldiers were going to do a manual sweep of whatever hotspots they were interested in, and they would arrest anyone who got in their way or seemed suspicious. The latter category would include Lily. She’d been on the road, hitchhiking and walking all the way from Elizabethtown, and she looked a mess. Like a kid with no home. They’d take her for a runaway, arrest her, and run her prints. When she came up as Lily Bauer…
Lily lurched out of the ditch and ducked behind a short hedgerow that separated two damaged houses on the north side of the street. There were woods about five hundred feet away, past two more rows of homes, and if she could get there, she could hide out until the government goons finished their sweep of Leitchfield and left. After that though, Lily wasn’t sure what she’d do. Obviously she wouldn’t be able to meet with her father’s resistance contact. The guy was probably fleeing town. She’d have to find another—
A second black helicopter flew overhead, the sound muted to Lily’s stunned ears but the vibrations intense enough to shake her bones. It circled the wrecked neighborhood twice before coming down to land in a somewhat clear area of the street. As it cut through the ceiling of smoke that had blanketed the area, the doors rolled open, and three men in black jumped out and landed on the asphalt, absorbing the ten-foot drop with ease. As they rose, one of them pointed directly at her.
Lily scrambled up and ran. The was a short fence at the back of the property, and she jumped it easily, her legs still toned from her years playing varsity volleyball. She hit the ground on the other side without losing momentum and sprinted across the next yard, skirting by a house with minimal bombing damage. Shouts echoed across the street behind her, and someone fired a few rounds, but the bullets went wide and ate into the siding of the house. In the next moment, Lily swung around the front end of the house, cutting off the soldiers’ line of sight.
She raced across the street and into the third yard, heading for the woods on the far end of the long, narrow lawn. As she was passing the back side of this house, a voice suddenly called out, “This way!”
A jolt shot down Lily’s spine, and she peered over her shoulder, thinking the men were close behind her. But they were just coming around the side of the second house, and none of them were saying anything. So where had the voice…?
“This way, I said!” the same voice whisper-shouted again.
Lily looked left, then right, trying to pinpoint the origin of the voice, but her eyes were still too damaged from the bomb blasts. Then she caught sight of something odd in the back yard: a perfect square of grass that was sticking up at an angle, and from the darkness beneath, a face staring at her. A hand popped out of the darkness and beckoned for Lily to hurry quickly over to the disguised door in the ground—the door to a storm shelter or cellar, maybe. Lily hesitated. She didn’t know who this guy was, if he was trustworthy, if—
A hail of bullets flew past Lily and into the trees fifty feet away.
Lily turned on a dime and dashed toward the door. When she got close, the man swung the door up high enough to let Lily slide in next to him, and as she dropped into the secret room, the guy lowered the door, cutting off the gray-tinged light of day. Lily was plunged into complete darkness as she fell about six feet to the floor, and she landed with a painful thud on her knees and fell sideways into the wall. She stayed against the wall, holding her breath, neither her nor the man who’d helped her moving—the soldiers had caught up, their heavy stomps audible through the soil.
Lily and the man waited for five minutes of stillness and silence, listening to the soldiers as they barked orders and searched the yard and woods. But they didn’t find the door, and eventually, they left the area.
Lily didn’t relax quite yet. Her vision had adjusted to the darkness, but all she could see of the man was a vaguely defined shape. He rose and crossed to the other side of the small cellar, knocking several objects aside as he searched for a light. Finally, he found a battery-powered lantern and switched it on. Then he turned around to face Lily.
The man who had saved her wasn’t human.