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The Journey Back From Hell Is a Long One

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Richard paced the stone cell in an effort to burn off his anxious energy. They had to wait long enough to execute their escape plan that the Diavolo and his men were already asleep and wouldn’t notice them leaving the cell, but not too long that they wouldn’t have enough time to get far enough away.

Marie, a young Chinese girl, kept asking when they were going to go. Richard kept telling her that they needed to wait a little longer.

Richard's best friend and confidant, Gabriella, finally asked, “You’re not backing out, are you? Because this doesn’t work without all of us.” 

Richard continued his pacing. He ran his hands through his matted curls with a deep breath, “I know. I’m not.”

She got up and gently put her hands on the front of his shoulders, sensing his severe anxiety, “Deep breaths.” She demonstrated for him, “In. Hold. Out.” He followed her instructions a couple times. As a psychiatrist she knew how to calm someone down. Her voice was gentle yet firm, “If we’re going to do this. We have to do it now.”

Richard felt himself grow calmer after the deep breathing. “I know. I know.”

“Then what do you say, let’s do this.” She gave him an encouraging smile before letting go of his shoulders.

“Alright. Let’s do this.”

Richard grabbed the swiss army knife from where he hid it in the almost empty first aid kit. Two other girls, Summer, a young blonde girl, and Marie, were right behind him as he took the knife to the door. He pulled out the screwdriver attachment and with shaky hands started to pry the screws out of the hinges. He quickly grew frustrated when he couldn’t get it. Gabriella kept encouraging him to continue until he finally broke, “I...I can’t do it. You try.” He passed Gabriella the knife. After a couple of attempts she managed to get the first of three screws loose. With a little more time and patience she managed to get the other two loose.

They all grabbed the side of the door, since the door was steel it took some muffled grunts and a lot of leg work but they managed to pull it open enough that they could all slither through, closing it behind them. Hopefully for good.

Once they were in the dark stone hallway they silently crept down towards the vent that they hoped would bring them to freedom.

Richard saw it first, a few feet up the wall, and silently pointed it out the women. Gabriella handed the knife to him and he reached up to unscrew the vent cover. The screwdriver was a little small for the screws but with some careful maneuvering he managed to make it work and unscrew the four screws holding the cover in place. He delicately placed the cover on the stone floor, praying it didn’t make a sound. Richard nodded and started helping the girls up. Summer was tall enough to mostly get up on her own and only needed a little boost to make it in. With some silent grunts and leg work he helped Marie and Gabriella get up into the vent. Then they pulled up Richard who replaced the vent cover the best he could from the inside.

They slowly crawled through the dusty dark corridors that were just wide enough and barely tall enough to fit fit them. Little shards of metal kept scraping them leaving them little cuts all over and snagging their clothes as the corridors weren’t smooth pieces of metal.

They eventually found the end and crawled out. Once they were all out and the cover was placed back on top of the vent, they stood in silence and just looked at each other. Everyone was thinking the same thing, ‘ Holy shit...is...is this actually going to work?’ They got themselves together and started sprinting towards the west side of the property full of lush trees and vegetation.

Richard had never truly ran for his life before. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, propelling him to run faster than he ever thought possible. His heart thrashed against his chest, he felt his whole body working; his leg muscles running warm, fresh air entered his lungs and blood flowed into all his limbs. His sneakers pounded against the grassy dirt.

‘You’re going to see Jared again. You’re going to hear his voice again. Oh god he must be worried sick. But you know what, it’s okay because this will be over. You’ll be out. Free. Home safe. No more coercion. No more threats. No more beatings. No more violence. This will be just a blip on the timeline of your life. You’re going to feel human again . Things will be okay again. You’re biggest problems will be about code errors and company funding. Not if you’ll survive the day or night and what scars you’ll get along the way. You'll be living again, not just surviving .  You’re going to finally get your life back .’

This motivated him to sprint even faster.


 

Diavolo’s right hand man, the muscular Timmer, walked down the corridor with a couple small plastic containers of leftovers. He yawned as he got the keys out to open the door. When he unlocked the door and pushed it open it started wobbling from either side, which greatly confused and alarmed him. He tossed the plastic containers to the floor and grabbed a side of the door to push open. His eyes widened and jaw dropped when he saw the empty cell, “Son of a bitch!”

He ran to inform Diavolo.

The four stumbled to a stop when they reached the apparent west end of the property. They looked up with wide eyes at the fifteen foot high chain link fence with twisted barbed wire on top.

Summer said what they were all thinking, “Well, fuck.”

They knew that they couldn’t climb that. Even if they could scale the fence, they couldn’t get past the barbed wire and still be able to keep running. The barbs would pierce into them, giving them large wounds that would make them unable to run.

“Under!” Gabriella dropped to her knees and started clawing at the patchy dry grass, trying to get to the dirt underneath. Everyone else followed her.

Sweat poured down their faces and dirt stuck their arms and clothes as they tried to dig a small ditch they could crawl through and under the fence.

Gabriella stopped when she heard it. She immediately raised her head in attention. She moved her sweat soaked curly brown hair from her ears to hear better. The others realized she stopped and looked at her with fear.

“What?”

She listened again. Richard tried to hear what she was apparently hearing. It was a voice. A voice they would instantly recognize anywhere, “I..I hear them.”

“I...I he-hear them too.” Fear etched in his voice.

“Fast! Fast!” Marie urged with a wave of her hand. As she continued to claw away the dirt the others followed, even though due to the fence’s depth and rigidity, they were far from having enough room to crawl under and out to freedom.

They heard the voices grow louder and louder. They heard hounds barking get louder and louder. They clawed at the dirt faster and faster until Gabriella stopped and got up. She took a couple deep breathes and wiped her forehead with her sweaty dirty arm, “They’re getting too close. We won’t get it in time.”

“Wha-?” Richard was going to ask, ‘ then what are we going to do?’  but he couldn’t find the words.

“We have to run. Hide. We have to lose them.”

“What about the front?” Marie asked, the rest of them still kneeling on the ground.

“No, he probably has a ton of cameras.” She took a couple of unconscious steps as she thought, “Probably a lot around the back as well….The sides. We’re on the sides. Stay there. Find a weaker part of fence along the east or west sides.”

“Aww, you thought you could get away from me! How adorable!”

They all swung around so fast they almost saw stars. Diavolo, Timmer, a group of bloodhounds, and a couple more of Diavolo’s muscle men were about thirty yards away. Each of Diavolo’s men had a Glock aimed at them.

Gabriella grabbed Richard’s arm with one hand and Summer’s with the other while yelling at Marie who was in front of them, “RUN!

Marie, in a desperate attempt to escape, started to climb the fence like a feral animal. She only managed to get a couple feet off the ground before there was a click of a Glock, a loud pop, then a loud thud of a body crashing to the ground. A bullet lodged deep in her temple. Blood and bits of brain slowly bled from her head, pooling around her pale body.

Richard opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. He felt something wet on his face and on his t-shirt. It was Marie’s blood and bits of brain tissue. He was frozen in fear, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. He was pulled back to reality with Gabriella desperately pulling at his arm with one hand. “Can’t look back!” He ran with her and Summer, praying that he wasn’t next.

They sprinted around large sycamore and black walnut trees, jumping over fallen branches and logs.

 

Gabriella clutched onto Summer and Richard’s hands. Richard couldn’t even process what was happening, his body was on complete autopilot. He’d later only remember this escape only in fragmented bits and pieces. He couldn’t stop running. He just tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other. He felt like he was hurling himself forward. His breath came in small spurts, hot and nervous. At his sides, pale fingers curled into sweaty fists, swinging forward as if it would make him faster. Behind them, Richard swore he heard Diavolo’s men and the howl from the bloodhounds. Mud smeared his dirty sweaty face as sweat dripped from his matted down curls. His lungs and heart were pumping, but the air didn't seem to be enough as he sprinted forward, panic trembling in his exhausted limbs which begged for the rest they wouldn’t receive. He clutched onto Gabriella’s hand even tighter. Grasping his lifeline.

They continued to hear the angry barks from Diavolo’s rabid hounds. They heard then loud sharp pop of a gun which Richard felt in his bones even though when he stopped he realized he wasn’t the one who was shot. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. He stopped because he was no longer holding Summer’s hand. He looked down and saw her lying dead on the ground with a bullet lodged deep in her small chest.

He felt something pulling on his other arm. It was Gabriella. He heard her distinct cries, “RUN! RICHARD! RUN!” Just before he could he heard another loud pop. Terrified for Gabriella he screamed. He noticed Gabriella became more distressed and feared the worst before she pointed towards his chest under his left collarbone. He looked down and noticed blood gushing through the mud and previously stained blood.

Fucking Fuck! You’ve been shot!’

They shot Marie, then Summer, then him...He realized that Gabriella was next. He got behind her to shield her.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” She grabbed his other arm and pulled him along with her except he stayed behind, using what body mass he had to shield her. They felt multiple bullets whizz past and miss them. They around more sycamore and black walnut trees, jumped over more fallen branches and logs. They finally stopped when they saw a small rain ditch that happened to lead under some fence. They collapsed to their knees to dig further into the ditch.

They heard the hounds draw closer and closer.

They knew for a fact that if they didn’t make it then at least one of them would be dead.

“Try!!” Gabriella demanded

“What?”

“Try it!” She quickly gestured towards the ditch.

Richard tried to squirm under and with some grunt work was able to get under the fence. “COME ON!”  He urged waving his arms for her to come over. Mud had mostly covered up the blood and bits of brain on his t-shirt and jeans.

Gabriella was able to get under the fence with some work.

They ran towards through the fields to their uncertain future.

Chapter Text

Gabriella and Richard spirited through the fields of rural California. They had no destination in mind, just aiming to get as far away from Diavolo and his men as possible. The pure adeleine rush enabled them to run for several miles before their bodies finally forced them to stop. They saw a small run down gas station in the middle of nowhere. Gabriella pointed it out to Richard and they ran into the abandoned building. The door was open and it appeared to have been looted before with the cash register lying open and empty and various snacks and drinks were taken. Richard followed Gabriella who ran over towards the cash register praying there was a phone nearby. Richard coward underneath the register counter, trying to hide himself.

“Fuck yes!” She exclaimed in Spanish as she found an old landline phone underneath the counter. She picked up the receiver, “What’s his number?”

Richard looked up at her, like he had forgotten their plan.

“Jared. What’s his number??”

Richard thought for a solid few seconds, unable to speak or move.

“We’re almost out, Richard. We just need him to pick us up.”

He slowly and hesitantly peared up from the counter and thought for a few more seconds before typing a number into the phone.

He shakily raised the phone to his ear as he heard the dial tone.

He heard Jared pick up.

“Hello?” The voice sounded tired, but not like he has recently woken, but as though he hadn’t gotten any sleep recently.

They could relate.

Richard sat there completely frozen. He was hearing Jared’s voice again. He couldn’t believe it.

“Hello?” Jared repeated, “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize this number. Who’s calling?”

After another long silence Richard finally managed a small, “J-J-Jared?”

He heard a loud gasp on the other end, “RICHARD? Richard is that you? Oh god! Where are you? Are you okay?”

Richard couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He started silently weeping. Gabriella took the phone and wrapped him in a hug. “Hi, I’m Richard’s friend. I don’t exactly know where we are but I saw a sign that said Rover St, and I know we’re in the Bay area. A little run down gas station.”

Jared’s mind was running at a million miles an hour with a million different questions. Gabriella answered his unasked question. “You can trust me. I was taken by the same guy as Richard. My name is Gabriella Hernandez. Richard’s told me a lot about you. I know we can trust you.”

All of a sudden Jared had a million more questions. About a year prior when Richard was first kidnapped, Jared befriended a man who attended one of Richard’s search parties. His name was Alex Hernandez, his wife Gabriella, was taken by the Uber Kidnapper two years prior. Due to their shared bond they became friends.

“Did you call 911 yet?”

“No. We can’t call 911. We can’t trust them. He has them on his payroll.”

“Who?”

“We’ll catch you up later. Just DO NOT call the cops.”

“I’m on my way.”

Gabriella smiled, “Thank you.”

“Of course.”

Gabriella smiled down at Richard who was back under the counter. “He’s coming. We did it. We got out.” Tears of joy ran down her face as she sniffled.

Richard was in too much shock to register anything that just happened.

“Jared’s coming.” She gave a small shoulder rub.

Richard knew that Jared would break every traffic law to get to them in record time.


 

They sat behind the counter, every single sound making them jump. Terrified that Diavolo would find them before Jared could. They heard police sirens whizz past them. Gabriella’s first thought was that Jared called the cops. But then realized that Diavolo’s property was the only one in the area. If the cops were there it was for him. Diavolo also had plenty of cops on his payroll. She thought that if the cops were coming they were coming for him they were corrupt.

They did not know that those sirens were the Feds. They had caught the Uber Kidnapper a few hours prior and got him to talk, which was how they found out about Diavolo.

Gabriella and Richard hid under the register and waited. It was all they could do. Eventually they heard a small knock on the door. “Hello? Richard? It’s Jared. Are you still here?”

Below the counter Richard didn’t really know if this was real or not. If his ears were deceiving him. He heard the door slowly creaked open and footsteps on the vinyl flooring as the door creaked closed. “Richard? Hello?”

Richard slowly raised his head above the counter and looked beyond the register to see Jared standing across the small store searching for him. He couldn’t believe it. Jared was there. He wondered if he was dreaming or hallucinating.

Jared looked towards the register and his face dropped in relief. Richard stood up. Jared ran over, “Richard!” Without thinking he wrapped his arms around Richard, holding him in a warm and tight embrace. There was a part of Richard that felt the need to fight back, but the rest of him that sank into Jared, clutching onto him like he didn’t know if he was real or not. It didn’t take long for Richard to start sobbing into Jared’s vest, as if to tell Jared his story for hell. Jared teared up with a sniffle.

“You’re okay now. I’m here. It’s okay. You’re safe now.” Jared lovingly muttered to Richard.

When the hug finally broke, Jared saw that his vest was covered in mud and blood, “Oh my god!” He looked up and finally noticed Richard’s appearance. He saw the dried blood and mud all over Richard, from his matted curls to his old sneakers. Jared’s jaw dropped and his face went pale as a sheet, he couldn’t stop staring. He noticed a wound just below Richard’s shoulder.

“O-o-o-oh m-m-my g-g-god, R-R-Richard.” He pointed to Richard’s shoulder, “Y-y-ou’ve been ss-shot. W-what the fuck h-h-h-happened?

Richard looked at his shoulder and made a face like he forgot that had happened.

“Why didn’t you call 911? You need a doctor right now!”

Richard vehemently shook his head.

“Why?”

“We don’t know who we can trust.” Jared looked up towards the female voice and saw Gabriella standing a few feet away, letting them have their reunion.

“What? Why?”

Gabriella shook her head, “We don’t have time to get into it now! We need to get the fuck out of here!”

Jared really wanted to be filled in as he was very confused but he listened to the intense urgency in Gabriella’s voice.

“Alright.”

They ran out to Jared’s Volt. As soon as they got in the car, Jared tried to convince them to go to the hospital. Gabriella kept saying, “No. He’ll find us there.” Richard vehemently shook his head with pure terror in his vacant eyes.

“You’re both covered in what appears to be blood and mud, Richard’s been shot and no one  will tell me anything about what the fuck is going on.” Jared was able to do many things, thanks for his time on the street. Although advanced field medicine was not one of them. After more prodding he was finally able to get them to agree to be seen by a doctor.

Jared sped away with Richard and Gabriella in the backseat, Richard grasping onto Gabriella’s hand.

They were finally free. Safe.

Although it didn’t feel like it yet.

They were terrified that Diavolo would find them.