Clara caught her breath. She looked up at the busted window – no movement. She looked around the courtyard and down the walkway that led to the front of the hospital. Clara slowly pulled herself up and began limping down the path.

Half a dozen steps later, she was able to pick up the pace and cross most of the distance to the far side of the building. It gave her more confidence – until she turned around and saw the hooded figures making their way into the courtyard from the opposite side.

She ran – as much as she was able. It was a quick hobble at best. The harsh lights shone across the building. As Clara's shadow grew smaller, the hooded figures' shadows enlarged to cover the outer wall.

Sirens went off somewhere on the hospital grounds, but Clara couldn't see where they were coming from, and no security force emerged to back them up. "At least they'll check on Aunt Maureen now," she thought.

Clara tuned out the pain from her leg and pushed herself into a full run. She raced around the furthest side of the building and came out in the front where she spotted Nicholas' car in the middle of the main parking lot. She ran toward him, though it felt like she was running in place until she got within a few feet of the driver's side door.

Clara could hear Nicholas' music from outside the car – he had it up loud, so he hadn't noticed her. She ran around the car and flung open the passenger door. Nicholas stared at her through the blaring tune. He grabbed the volume knob and spun it down.

"What happened to you?!" he asked, looking her over.

Clara fell into the passenger seat. She wanted to answer him, but nothing came out. She looked down at herself. Her blouse had ripped open. The wound in her leg had bled down to her shoes. Her clothes were wet, grass-stained, and covered in dirt. And she was soaked with sweat.

"Nicholas," she finally managed to say, "just drive!"

The look on her face and her manic tone was enough to convince him to do as she ordered without waiting for an answer. He threw the car into gear and took off toward the main road.

Clara caught her breath. She felt bad asking Nicholas to drive off like a maniac without giving him an explanation. As he swerved around the little grass islands that broke up the parking lot, she gave him the briefest recap of what had happened inside the hospital.

He rounded the next corner, nearly getting the car on two wheels. "Are you sure--"

"Don't ask me if I'm sure!" Clara screamed. "They--"

And then she and Nicholas both saw it – a dark pickup truck near the lot's exit flipped its lights on just as they passed. Clara whipped around and saw the hooded figures inside. The pickup revved its engine and began following.

"That's them!" Clara said. She was terrified to see the figures again – yet relieved that Nicholas was bearing witness to the strangeness.

"I saw," Nicholas said with disbelief. "Shit – they're catching up!"

"You can't let them," said Clara.

"I won't," he said, steering the car into what seemed to be the exit to the parking area – until his headlights landed on a tall curb. He stopped the car just short of slamming into it.

"Oh man," Nicholas said. The truck's highbeams grew brighter behind them.

"Go back around!" said Clara.

Nicholas checked his mirror again. "I can't! There's nowhere to go!"

He gritted his teeth and pounded his foot down on the gas pedal, sending the car up and over the curb, then down an embankment. Nicholas' car jostled from side to side, nearly flipping over before settling on the road below.

"You okay?" Nicholas asked.

Clara wrapped her arms around herself. She nodded slowly. As she lifted her head up, she saw the pickup skid into the spot above them where their car had just been.

Nicholas followed Clara's eyes up. They both saw the figures in the pickup. The faces of the driver and middle figure remained shadowed, but the one in the passenger seat looked directly at them. His face held a strangely innocent expression. He locked eyes with Clara.

"Go!" she screamed. "Go!"

Nicholas took off again as the pickup worked its way back around the parking lot. "The incline must have been too steep for them," he said.

They went around the hospital's outer drive, though the route to the main exit was still difficult to discern.

"Why did they make this place so damn confusing?!" he asked.

Clara saw the illuminated sign at the front of the building. She pointed to it frantically. "There! Aim for that!"

Nicholas sped toward the entrance. He managed to get a decent distance from the pickup truck, turning down a neighborhood street opposite the hospital. Nicholas brought the car to a crawl.

"Keep going!" Clara said. "Don't slow down!"

"I'm trying to lose them," he said. "There are lots of little streets around here. They might get lost."

"We might get lost, too," Clara said.

The neighborhood was old and quiet. Nicholas and Clara scanned the spaces between the houses for any activity.

"I think we're clear," he said.

Clara wasn't convinced. "Just get us back to the highway."

Nicholas reached the first intersection. "Just in case..." he said as he flipped his lights off.

"Should we just find a spot and park?" he asked. "It might be better to hide out here for a couple hours instead of trying to find our way out of this neighborhood with them looking for us."

"No way," said Clara. "I could never stay--"

As they drove down the street, a set of headlights appeared at the opposite end of the block.

"Oh no..." said Clara. "That's them."

Nicholas put the car in reverse and headed back down the street.

"What are you doing?" Clara asked.

"There's not enough space to turn around," he said, wrenching his neck around to see.

Clara watched as Nicholas barely missed scraping against a parked car.

"Careful!" she said. "You're not very good at this!"

"Sorry I'm not an experienced backwards driver," he said.

He whipped into a reverse turn at the end of the block, speeding forward down the adjoining street.

Clara watched as the distant headlights slowly approached the intersection they'd just passed through. They kept at a steady speed.

"Why are they going so slow?" she asked. "Are they just messing with us?"

"I doubt it," Nicholas said, increasing the car's speed. "Maybe they just didn't see us."

"But why--?" And before Clara could finish her thought, the other headlights went dark.

Nicholas looked out the driver's side window. "Where did they go?" he asked.

Then an electronic sound pierced the air, accompanied by oscillating red and blue lights. Nicholas realized what was happening as the lights illuminated the fronts of the houses. He put his car in park and placed his hands on the steering wheel.

Clara didn't understand what was happening until an amplified voice from behind them instructed, "Driver, stay inside your vehicle!"

------------------

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- Steve


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