A Twisted Vacation

Ponyboy and Soda decide to convince Darry to take them to a hotel in Kansas for winter break. A vacation away from such a dangerous place like Tulsa and with your best friends sound tuff, right? However, some escaped mental patients just so happen to be on the lose. They just so happen to want revenge!


10. More Secrets?

Darry's POV

I slowly paced myself, dragging my feet back and forth against the stone floor of the feasting hall. My hands kept raking through my hair, locking themselves around the back of my neck as my shock began to slowly drain. However, my nervousness was only going to continue to expand, and it wouldn't stop until these escaped mental patients were out of mine, my kid brothers, and the rest of the gang's lives. No matter how difficult this was going to be, we needed to stay as safe and secure as possible, and we needed to get Jocelyn back from God knows who. She might've been a baby, but she was still a member of our gang, and Johnny can't live without his kid sisters in his lives. They were the only reason why he decided to try quit smoking, and not to mention he didn't want to take his own life anymore. He needed both of them just as much as they needed him.

Steve decided to come to the feasting hall, but instead of growing concerned over why he wasn't with Soda anymore, I couldn't help to notice how guilty Steve looked about God knows what. Could he have possibly been just as worried about Jocelyn as the rest of the gang? His eyes were huge, shining like two glass marbles, but he wouldn't dare look at anybody directly. Right when he entered the feasting hall and I looked at him, he quickly turned his attention down to the floor. His free hand was jammed into one of his worn out jeans pockets, and his other hand was holding his cigarette.

I confusedly cocked an eyebrow, but I didn't bother to say anything. I had too much weighing heavily on my mind to do so. Everyone kept their mouths shut as Steve slowly approached the table again. Hesitantly then, he pulled out a chair and plopped himself down. Still, he wouldn't say a word, and he rose his cancer stick up to his mouth to take in another drag.

No matter how much I wanted it to, the silence wouldn't shatter. Everything was quiet to the point where you could've heard a small pin hit the floor from a straight mile away. It was silent...very quiet...hm...somethin' in the pit of my stomach was telling me that it was too quiet. However, not even I could open my mouth and say something. I tried talking a few times, but every time I opened my mouth, all that came out was more quietness. There was this pounding feeling in the middle of my throat, too. It was as if my words were trying to beat their way out so they could be heard, but not even that had me talking. I couldn't shake off this sick, sinking feeling that somebody was spying on me and the rest of the gang right at that moment. It was like they actually wanted everything to be quiet, taking in our misery with satisfaction dancing in their heartless eyes; and a wide, evil smirk plastered across their cold face.

How could anybody be so heartless, kidnapping and spilling others innocent blood like it was no big deal? I came from Tulsa, facing plenty of adult responsibilities in order to keep my kid brothers, our gang, and I tighter day by day, and not a week would go by without there being a rumble with some Socs. Nonetheless, I never went through something like this with murderous kidnappers who escaped some mental institution! After mine, Ponyboy, and Soda's parents passed away in that God awful auto-wreck, I knew that I was going to become what was like a father faster before anybody's eyes. I had no choice but to say good-bye to college and fetch me a good enough job with well pay in order to pay the bills, buy the groceries, and keep my kid brothers and myself safe and healthy. But that wasn't all I had to do; I've always been the leader of the gang since I was Superman, but anytime that there was some kind of trouble going on with Kitten, Dally, Two-Bit, or anybody in the gang in general, my mom was there for advice. As for my old man, he was there to turn the frowns upside down. Unfortunately, my folks were gone for what felt like billions of years, and now I had to take up extra responsibility for not only Soda and Ponyboy, but for the gang too.

I was hoping to God that none of my tears were finding a way to sneak out of the corners of my eyes. The last thing the gang and I needed was the extra stress over how even Superman was breaking down in a situation like this. I never broke down in any kind of problem in front of the gang; even when my parents passed away, I made sure to keep my sorrow and pain out of my kid brothers and the gang's sights.

As I gazed around the table from where I was standing behind my chair, I couldn't help but notice how much more difficult the rest of the gang was handling all of this.

I actually can't seem to recall a time where I've seen Johnny so torn up and shattered in pieces. He wouldn't lift his head from where he was hiding it on the table, keeping his arms locked around it as he bawled harder than I've ever heard him cry. I didn't need to see his face to know that it was beating red, wet with steaming hot tear streaks, and his red-rimmed eyes were only swarming with more misery by each passing second with knowing that Jocelyn was missing.

With her arms caringly connected around Johnny, Kitten regretfully pouted and rested her head on his shoulder as she softly shushed him. She must've picked up that no matter how many times she told him that everything was going to be okay and that we weren't going to leave Kansas without Jocelyn, Johnny's worry and fear wouldn't stop spreading rapidly inside of him. He's always loved his kid sisters ever since the first beat of their hearts, so he obviously wasn't going to listen to such promising words in this kind of situation. Jocelyn was kidnapped, and Cassidy was furious with him, storming around God knows where in the hotel with Soda hunting for her.

I could tell that Ponyboy was trying his hardest to hold his own tears back as he gave Johnny's other shoulder a few consoling pats and rubs.

As for Dally and Vinny, their faces were beating redder than the devil's. You could definitely tell by the way that their eyes were sharply narrowed, and how their lips were peeled back to reveal their tightly clenching teeth that Dallas and Valerie Winston truly were from the exact family tree. Just looking and taking in their facial expressions had me thinking that it was like I could hear their voices loudly echoing in my head, firing every word furiously from the book.

That pregnant Faith girl had left the feasting hall shortly after her twin sister and that bitchy Ashton went to have a talk about God knows what. Faith's eyes were like two marbles, wide and glassy like, and she looked as pale as a ghost, but her face was a mixture of bright green. It looked like to me that with all of the hormones with being pregnant, the morning sickness must've been beginning to mix together with her new fear and shock towards these escaped murderous kidnappers.

Jade and Two-Bit were fiddling around with their fingernails and nervously gazing around, obviously trying their hardest to remain calm.

Lastly, that very pale boy with the dark hair and blonde highlights didn't bother to say a word through the whole time in the feasting hall. Whoever he was, he must've been very uneasy about these escaped mental patients, because he carefully stood up from his chair and slowly showed himself out of the feasting hall not long after Faith exited. Not even Johnny was that quiet! Hm...somethin' wasn't right with that kid...he looked only about seventeen or eighteen, but he was as pale as a freaking ghost, clean sheet, and vampire mixed together, and his clothes did look awfully baggy on him. Something must've been very wrong with him...but what could've it been?

"Well," Dally's somewhat loud and obviously angry tone startled me out of my thoughts. "What in the hell are we doin' just sittin' here on our asses? We got to start searchin' for Jocelyn so we can get her back and kick these escaped mental patients freakin' loony asses into the generation!"

I took a moment to digest Dally's words and remember many of the things he told us he did back in New York, right before I shook my head a few soft times, trying not to be so obvious that I was attempting to keep my annoyance locked inside.

"Dally," I sighed, rolling my eyes. "I know that you'll probably find this hard to believe, but we can't just go off and do whatever the hell we want in order to track these escaped mental patients down." I was trying to talk as calmly as I could, but as soft as I looked on the outside, I felt like I was getting ready to boil over on the inside.

"And whys that, Darry?" Dally cocked an eyebrow at me. "Vin and I know all of the street smarts and we've been through hell back in New York with Hope's death, our old gang betraying us, and a hell lot of a bunch more!"

As much as I wanted to remain calm, I was beginning to lose my cool from being so worked up over how one of our gang members have already gone missing, and another just wants to get up and go hunting for some mental patients like it ain't a big deal.

I leaned over one of the empty chairs and laid my hands flat down on the table in front of me. By the look on my face and the glowing of my eyes, anybody looking at me could've been able to tell that I was being serious as hell. I hope, that is.

"But these are escaped mental patients, Dally!" I stared at the oldest Winston directly in the eyes to get my message clear. "You and Vinny might've faced plenty of alcoholics, drug addicts, sex offenders, and other gang members in New York, but escaped mental patients are a whole new level, even for you two!"

Dally's eyes narrowed a bit. "How damn hard could it be, Darry?" He was keeping his voice soft, but able to hear, and he was sounding pretty damn stubborn if you ask me. I swear, if I wasn't the one who was talking to him right then, he would've been bellowing to the point where people would've picked hearing airplanes take off repeatedly over his foul mouth any day.

"Dally, don't ask such a damn ridiculous thing like that!" I gave him a warning stare. "I know you deeply care about Jocelyn! We all love her, but we can't just start runnin' around to search for her without a plan! That is, unless we all want to get go missin' from being kidnapped ourselves at some point!"

Dally turned his attention down at the table and he quietly went back to cursing under his breath, but he didn't bother to say anything directly back at me. He would never admit it, but I could tell that he knew by heart that I was only stating a fact. Mental patients could be excessively dangerous and absolutely fatal if they don't get the medical care that they need to help them. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that ship has sailed already. Only one of the members from our gang have been kidnapped, and everyone practically broke down a level already.

When I peeked over at Johnny, I could see that his face was no longer hidden. His helpless dark eyes were locked on me, tears still hotly leaving the bright red rims as he went on softly sniffling and drying away some of his salty tears with his jean jackets sleeves. I couldn't help then but notice that what was like a flooding puddle of steaming tears were now resting where Johnny's head previously was on the table.

A frown went tugging harshly at the edges of my mouth, but no matter how bruised up I felt on the inside about all of this, I wouldn't allow my sorrow to overpower me. I was Superman. I was the leader of the gang. I couldn't break down and allow my worry to control me. That would only make this entire "vacation" worse. That is, if things could possibly find a way to get worse.

"You're right, Darry," Jade softly spoke up, shattering the new shorter silence. "I've been through 'nough unexpected turns in my life to understand the difference between somethin' that I had to handle right then, to somethin' that's much harder happening right now."

Jadelyn Thomas was the type of greaser girl the I actually accepted. She was a lot like Kitten; they were both clean greaser girls, dressing appropriately and wearing healthy amounts of make-up that didn't make it look like they were wearing some types of Halloween masks. I've seen plenty of young girls back in Tulsa that stuck to wearing tiny shirts that revealed almost everything, and pairs of extremely short skirts and pairs of almost shredded shorts. Jade and Kitten were different though. They might've been clean female greasers, but they weren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and they only fought for self-defense.

I forced a grin and gave Jade a small nod, as if I was silently giving her a thanks. She must've known what I was doing, because she smiled a little back.

However, my little smile instantly vanished when I locked my eyes on Vinny. Her arms were thrown across her chest, and she uncaringly rolled her eyes.

"Well, I don't know 'bout little miss damn sunshine right here," Vinny pointed a thumb at Jade. "But I'm goin' to stick to this damn reality and go check on what the hell is takin' that Mr. Roberts and his daughter so long with calling the fuzz."

As much as I should've been telling Vinny to freaking can her attitude, I was lost in thinking about what she just said about Mr. Roberts and Utopia. They went off to call the cops in the kitchen about two-to-five minutes ago, but they still didn't come back into the feasting hall. Could they have possibly been...kidnapped? No...they couldn't have...we would've heard Utopia and Mr. Roberts at least try to scream, and not to mention that we didn't pick up the sounds of any struggle take place.

"Sit your ass down, Vinny!" Dally barked, just as his kid sister stood up from her chair.

Vinny's eyes instantly narrowed, and she shot Dally a death mock stare. I swear, she was a whole lot more stubborn and violent than Dally, even though she was the younger Winston.

"And what'll you apparently do to me if I don't, Dally?" Vinny challenged.

"Oh, so you want to play that damn game, huh?" Dally practically stomped his feet clear into the floor as he rose from his seat. Vinny formed a satisfied smirk, spreading out her arms as if she was telling Dally to bring it on. This wasn't the first time that the Winston's played this "damn game" of theirs, and it honestly aggravated the living crap out of me. I swear, those two never get along, unless they were pounding some Soc in a rumble together. Other than that, Dally only looks out for Vinny whenever Two-Bit or any boy in general is making eyes at her. Vinny, on the other hand, rarely did anything for Dally.

"That's 'nough, Dally and Vinny!" I hated to raise my voice at that time, but I didn't have much of a choice. "This ain't no time for fighting!" I then turned my head over to Vinny. "Vin, you sit down and I'll go see what's keepin' Mr. Roberts and Utopia with this phone call to the fuzz!"

Vinny stubbornly mumbled under her breath, swearing beyond belief as she plopped herself carelessly back down in her chair.

I nodded at her, ignoring her annoyed facial expression and foul mouth. "That's better, Vin."

"Hey, Darry?" Steve's voice finally spoke up after he had shut himself out for some reason.

I cocked an eyebrow and studied him as he took one final drag of his cigarette. When he released the smoke cloud from his lips, he finally put the cancer stick out.

"Yeah, Steve?"

"...I don't mind if I come with you," He simply shrugged his shoulders, but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was still pretty uneasy about something. "I mean, I think it's best if I actually do."

Confusion began to spark up in my eyes, and I hesitated for a few moments so I could digest Steve's words. Why did he feel the need to tag along with me? I didn't mind if he did, but I never imagined Steve actually wanting to. He was too cocky for his own good, and he pretty much only liked hanging out with Soda. But by the nervousness that I could tell that Steve was containing inside of him, I knew by heart that he must've wanted to tell me something that was most likely very important.

Finally, I broke through my thinking and nodded a single time. "Okay, Steve. Come on and follow me to the kitchen."

Steve only nodded in response, right before he slid his chair out and stood up on his feet. Then he pushed his seat back in, and I took a glance around the table at Jade and the rest of the gang.

"As for the rest of you," I stated in a serious tone. "Stay here and don't rip each others heads off." I couldn't help myself to eye Dally and Vinny for a moment. In return, they just rolled their eyes, but I didn't bother to say anything. Instead, I just looked at Steve, who was now standing by my side, and I motioned him to follow me.

Silence met the feasting hall once again. All that I could hear was the sounds of mine and Steve's footsteps softly stepping across the stone floor. Steve wasn't that far behind me when I finally reached the wooden doors that entered the kitchen. That's when the quietness finally faded, because I could hear the sound of Mr. Roberts' voice going "Hello? Hello? Hello?" from the opposite side of the doors repeatedly.

Confusedly, I cocked an eyebrow, but when I glanced at Steve, he only shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and raised his shoulders. I could tell by the look that was glimmering in his eyes that he was just as confused as me. Though instead of letting another second to slip by, I nudged Steve, right before I pushed open the kitchen doors. As I entered, Steve coming in behind, we were both greeted with the sight of Mr. Roberts still going on saying "Hello?" into the phone. Utopia was sitting on one of the clean counters like a proper young lady. Her legs were crossed, along with her arms over her chest, and her hazel eyes that reminded me a lot of Soda's stayed on her father. That is, before she heard the kitchen doors flap shut behind Steve and I; her eyes locked on us in seconds.

"Hello?...Hello? Is any officer there?" Mr. Roberts asked, obviously still trying to talk to the fuzz. Why in the hell wasn't anybody responding to him?

Finally, Mr. Roberts must've had enough, because he shook his head a few soft times and rolled his pale eyes. After that, he angrily slammed the phone back down on its receiver, as if he was about to crush somebody's skull with a single pound of his fist. For some reason, Steve seemed to go pale, and that was very strange because out of everyone in the gang, Steve was one of the hardest ones to scare or worry. But after Mr. Roberts furiously smacked the phone up, something must've rang inside of Steve. Whatever it was, it must've startled him greatly, but neither of us bothered to say anything about it.

I watched the owner of the hotel as he ran his hands through his hair and quietly sighed to himself. Something wasn't right, but just as Mr. Roberts opened his mouth and fixed his eyes on Utopia, he froze. He must've noticed that she was just staring at Steve and I, looking like she was about to shed a waterfall about something. Without either of them saying a word, Mr. Roberts snapped his attention around on Steve and I.

His pale blue eyes shot huge. "Oh, how long have you two been there?"

I slightly glimpsed over at Steve, witnessing him only shrug in response, but I knew that wasn't an actual answer.

"We weren't here that long," I honestly spoke, still catching a couple of short peeks over to examine how nervous Steve was acting. "We just decided to come and see what was the hold up with this phone call to the police."

Just like anybody would be afraid of in a time like that, a regretful pout slipped across Mr. Roberts' face.

"I'm afraid that the cops aren't goin' to be able to help us with this mess."

At his regretting words, my eyes became huge and glossy with a mixture of concern and some rare fear. "What are you talkin' about, sir?"

"I'm talkin' about the phone lines," Mr. Roberts sighed. "I must've tried dialing the police twenty-five damn times, but all I get in return is static. The phone lines must've been cut."

"Cut?" Steve's eyes widened at the word, and I could've sworn that his voice cracked with rare terror.

Mr. Roberts' frown spread, but just as he opened his mouth to say something, Utopia suddenly started to cough out of nowhere. Hard, too. Every cough was deep, and Utopia's eyes became watery as she folded her hands over her mouth. I could tell that these coughs weren't phony by the way Utopia's silky cheeks began to go bright red. Plead for what I thought was a cry for help was shimmering in her dark eyes as she locked them on her father.

When I turned my attention back over to Mr. Roberts' again, I instantly realized that there was a new mixture of worry and terror drowning in his eyes. Instead of saying another word to Steve and I though, Mr. Roberts hurriedly trotted over to Utopia and placed his hands on her shoulders.

"Come along, Utopia." hurriedly instructed Mr. Roberts as he quickly, but carefully at the same time, helped his daughter down from the counter. His hands remained pressing against her shoulders, but Utopia was still too caught up in coughing rapidly to pay any mind to him. Her coughs were digging sharper, making me slimly cringe at the memories of how painful my throat felt in the past when I coughed like that during my different rounds of strep.

"Sir," I spoke cautiously, cocking an eyebrow. "Is she okay?"

"Yes, she's fine!" Mr. Roberts replied, but he was too quick and a bit too nervous for my understanding.

Still coughing, Utopia's begging eyes slowly opened back up. I could see the tears shimmering at her edges, but when she turned her head a little to look at me, I could've sworn that I felt like my eyes were about to bulge out of my head. I didn't know if it was a trick of the light or what, but there were these drops of some deep red substance dripping out from Utopia's mouth. Then when I took a quick peek at her cuffed hands, I saw the same shade of red dyeing her palms. Was Utopia...coughing up blood?

I cracked open my mouth a little to attempt speaking up again, but all that I could do was feed on my silence. I was too startled, taken off guard over the possibility of Utopia coughing up blood. When Utopia flew her mouth back into her hands, and the tears began to slowly run down her face, I decided to take a peek over at Steve. From the corner of my eye, I could see him confusedly raising an eyebrow at me. He must've not noticed the red droplets dripping from her lips, or covering the palms of her hands.

"Are you sure that she's alright, Mr. Roberts?" questioned Steve, the tone of his voice exposing his strong confusion.

"I already told you two that she's perfectly fine!" Mr. Roberts eagerly nodded his head, somewhat raising his voice just a little bit. "Isn't that right, Utopia?"

Steve and I concernedly gazed at the pretty brunette girl. Waiting patiently, Utopia was able to get a hold of her coughing fit to the point where she could talk.

Wiping away some of her tears away, she nodded. "Yeah, I'm-" She cuffed her hands over her mouth again and coughed some more. "I'm fine..."

"See?" Mr. Roberts said in an 'I told you so' tone to Steve and I. After that, he started to caringly lead Utopia out of the kitchen, his hands still gently pressing against her shoulders.

"Wait! Mr. Roberts! Utopia! Where are you two going?" I asked, keeping the nervousness out of my voice the best that I could.

"I'm just goin' to take my daughter to the restroom for a moment. We'll be back soon." answered Mr. Roberts.

It was then Steve's turn to speak. "But what about the police?"

Mr. Roberts and Utopia stopped in their tracks, their backs facing Steve and I. Utopia's coughing was finally beginning to slowly decrease, and I could've sworn that I could hear her gulping down giant breaths of air.

Then Mr. Roberts glanced over his shoulder and gave Steve and I a suspicious expression. His welcoming pale blue eyes suddenly felt hard with seriousness to me, and that had this strange knot tightening up in the pit of my stomach.

"I'm sorry," Mr. Roberts honestly said. "But I'm afraid that the cops aren't coming...and there's no way for us to get contact with them."

I concernedly narrowed my eyes as silence then filled the kitchen, but before I could possibly say anything else, Mr. Roberts escorted Utopia and himself out of the kitchen. That left Steve and I alone.

Steve took in a deep breath and held it in for a couple of seconds. "Well that just made this whole thing even more unsettling." He shook his head, softly releasing the breath.

My eyes were still cautiously squinted. "Hey, Steve?...Did you possibly happen to catch a look at Utopia's face when she was coughin' like that?"

At first, Steve looked at me with a cocked eyebrow. He was obviously trying to piece together why I asked him a question like that.

"Um...no, I don't believe I did. Why?"

It was then my turn to be quiet. I could've sworn that there was some red liquid dripping out of Utopia's mouth and plopping against the palms of her hands. Blood...there was no other possible red thing that Utopia could've been coughing up like that. But why was she coughing up blood? I might've been the leader of the gang, but I wasn't any doctor.

I didn't want to stress Steve out even more, so I didn't see why I should've opened my mouth and told him about how I thought that I saw blood coming out of Utopia's mouth.

"Never mind," I sighed shook my head. After that, I ran a hand through my hair, still having a difficult time believing that all of this was happening. "Anyway, since we don't have the cops to help us out with these escaped mental patients, I guess it's our job to track 'em down and get Jocelyn back ourselves."

Steve's eyes instantly went wide. "Darry, when in the hell did you go psychotic yourself?"

"I'm realistic, not psychotic." I rolled my eyes, correcting Soda's best buddy. "And you even know yourself that we don't have any other possible options to pick from. It's either we take these serious matters into our own hands, or we allow these escaped mental patients to kidnap us and possibly draw all of our blood."

I stared at Steve, waiting for him to say something back to me. When all I got in return from him was silence, I opened my mouth again to ask him which option he was going to stick with. Nonetheless, I shut myself up instantly when Steve walked right passed me. I kept my confused eyes on him, questioning what I was witnessing as he picked the phone up and dialed the number for the police.

However, it wasn't long before Steve let out a "Damn it!" and he roughly placed the phone back where it hanged on the wall.

I crossed my arms over my chest. "Steve, Mr. Roberts said that the phone lines were cut, remember? We can't call anybody."

"I just don't know who we can trust in this hotel, Darry." Steve sighed, running his hands through his hair.

"What are you talkin' about, Steve?" I confusedly raised my eyebrows and tilted my head over a bit.

"Well, there's a reason why I wanted to come in here with you. I have to tell you somethin' that's very damn important."

My confusion was only expanding. "And what exactly would that be?"

"Well..." Again, Steve sighed, and a rare frown slipped across his face as he kicked back against the wall. "Long story short...somebody in this hotel is workin' with the killers."

I could've sworn that I felt my heart take one final gigantic leap in my chest before it heavily dropped like a rock, landing in the pit of my stomach. I was hoping to God that I didn't pale, and I quietly gulped under my breath so Steve wouldn't hear me.

"What are you talkin' about, Steve? How on earth did you come up with that?" I asked when I found my voice again.

"Darry, think 'bout it," Steve stated. "All of our strange experiences seem to happen at night, which is when all of the doors and windows in this place is latched shut and locked up tighter than any cooler that Dally or Vinny has been to. How could these escaped mental patients find a way into the hotel without there bein' any shattered windows, busted down doors, or anythin' that obvious of a break in?"

My eyes became glassy all over again. Steve had a point...there was no other possible way for anybody to sneak in or out of The County Lodge during the night, thanks to the well locked up doors and windows. Though at the same time, I just didn't want Steve to risk causing everyone to get all worked up even more over nothing. Was it possible that some other guest actually was working with the killers? I never thought of that...

I touched my chin with my index finger and studied Steve, thinking heavily about each of his words.

"All right...I didn't ever suspect that, so thanks for tellin' me, Steve." I broke the unexpected silence.

In return, Steve gazed down at the floor and hesitantly nodded, as if he was ashamed by something else. Nonetheless, I didn't want to ask.

"Let's get back to the others, okay?" I instructed.

Steve simply shrugged and nodded, as if he was Johnny. "Are we goin' to tell them about what I figured out?"

I hesitated and bit down on my bottom lip. "...We will at some point, but now is a bad 'nough time."

"But we don't know who we can trust in this hotel, Darry!" Steve pointed out. "Other than the rest of the gang and the Shepard's, everybody else is a possibility to who could possibly be workin' with the killers!"

"Be quiet, Steve!" I raised one of my fingers up to my lips and shushed him. "There's no use to announce it to the whole hotel! And believe me, I've seen enough horror films to know how these types of things turn out!"

Steve cocked an eyebrow and he crossed his arms over his chest. "How exactly would a situation like this play out in one of those movies, Darry?"

"Don't ask," I shook my head. "Let's just head back to the table."

Understandingly, Steve nodded his head, and without another word, he followed me out of the kitchen. Nevertheless, it wasn't long before I froze in my tracks again, startled at what unexpected detail greeted Steve and I when we entered the feasting hall again. Everybody was still sitting where they were at the table like I told them to do, but Ponyboy was the only one who wasn't there anymore. Soda and Cassidy still weren't back either, and all of the other guests weren't in the feasting hall anymore either.

My eyes shot huge, but instead of allowing another second to slip through my fingers, I bolted over to the table like my life depended on it. Steve came trotting not that far behind.

"Darry! Steve! What took you guys so long?" questioned the concerned looking Two-Bit.

I instantly shook my head. "Never mind that! Where's Ponyboy?" I swear, I've never felt my heart pound so hard before in my entire life.

"I think he said somethin' about going to the bathroom." Johnny bit down on his thumbnail, obviously still worried.

"Which is a freakin' lie, for your information." Vinny rolled her eyes. "Ponyboy wouldn't bother goin' to the restroom in a place where escaped mental patients are lurking."

My teeth began to grind a bit, and I raised my eyebrows at Vinny. "Any ideas where he could've actually went?"

Vinny paused for a couple of short seconds before she shrugged. "He probably went off to find Soda and Cassidy."

Doesn't that kid ever use that head of his for anythin' outside of school? I specifically told him and the others to sit their butts down in their seats and to not leave the feasting hall!

"Damn..." I mumbled under my breath, obviously a new mixture of anger more fear. "I got to go find him before he gets his ass kidnapped!"

Without giving anyone a chance to say anything back to me, I sprinted away from the table and continued my way out of the feasting hall. Unfortunately, I was unaware that a cold pair of dark eyes were watching me right at that moment, spying on me from somewhere outside.

Ponyboy's POV

Some unexpected twist that this vacation decided to pull over the gang and I. Here we were, thinking that we were going to be able to have a tuff first ever vacation all together, but after traveling all the way out of our dangerous home town to get here to Kansas, we were finally welcomed with the terrifying truth behind all of these strange experiences of ours. Escaped mental patients were on the lose, and whoever they were, they already got away with kidnapping innocent little Jocelyn. But no matter how long it was going to take, Darry assured the gang that we weren't going to leave any of our friends behind in Kansas. We were going to find Jocelyn and get her back one way or the other.

Unfortunately, I must admit that leaving the feasting hall was a pretty horrible idea. I wasn't using my head when I first stood up from my seat though; of course, that didn't surprise me. After Darry and Steve headed into the kitchen, I got right up on my feet and covered where I was going with the bathroom. Nobody seemed to object to me verbally, but I could tell by the way they were each staring at me that they weren't so sure about me heading off in this gigantic hotel all by myself. Nevertheless, I went off on my own anyway, and that was a terrible mistake.

I only wanted to start searching for any clues as to where Jocelyn could've disappeared to, but it was too late to turn back to go ask for help now. The County Lodge was basically like a huge maze, and I knew completely that Darry was going to knock some sense into me when he realized that I was gone.

Quietly, just as I released a sigh, I couldn't help myself to freeze in my tracks. There was this strange sound that I suddenly picked up, as if it fell from the sky. Unsuccessfully, I raised an eyebrow the best that I could and kept still, as if I had a choice. My feet refused to take another step from where they were now pinned to the wooden floor. I began to pick up two sounds this time: My heart being to pick up the pace, and the strange noise that I thought sounded like creaky footsteps hurriedly making their way around. But what really made them different was that the footsteps weren't coming from upstairs, or a distance away from where I was.

"What the..." I shut myself up when I then heard what I knew for sure was a light bang, followed by more footsteps.

Slowly, I turned my attention over to this part of the wall. Again, I failed at cocking an eyebrow, but I attempted it anyway and listened carefully like my life depended on it. Just like I suspected, another noise came from that part of the wall. This sound sounded like it was a glass bottle accidentally breaking.

I took down a soft gulp, but instead of running off to go get someone else like I should've, I didn't use my head yet again. My legs began to slightly shake, but I was still able to force myself through my stiff stage and walk. I silently tiptoed over to that part of the wall where I could've sworn I heard all of these strange noises. I stopped when I was able to gently touch the side of my head to the cold surface, breathing a little harder, but very quietly in order to remain calm.

Bang, bang, bang...tap, tap, tap...

Was...was somebody on the other side of the wall? How was that possible? Behind every wall is just more wall, unless there were doors that led into different rooms. But this wall would've led you outside...so how could someone possibly-

"Holy crap!" My eyes shot as wide as saucers, and I was taken off guard when only that part of the wall actually opened up. Since I had my ear pressed against the wall, I fell straight down, backside up as I hit the small remains of the ground. To my stunning discovery, I noticed an old looking, wooden staircase resting in front of my now flat body. Was this seriously happening? Did I really just open up a secret passageway? I thought things like this only happened in the movies!

I quickly pushed myself up on my knees, right before I grasped the wooden railing to help me get back up on my feet. My eyes remained huge, and my mouth gaped open from shock as I stared down the wooden stairs. I didn't have the slightest idea which room they led to, but whatever room it was, it had its light turned on down there.

"Jocelyn..." I shakily said under my breath. "...Are you down there?"

Strangely, I didn't hear anymore noises coming from down in this secret room. Instead, everything was surprisingly still, but that only made this whole thing more strange. I might've not used my head that often outside of school, and I did have one heck of an imagination, but I know for sure that I didn't just hear all of these weird noises in my head. That glass bottle breaking, light bangs from things being shuffled around, and the footsteps hurriedly making their way around. As much as I hated to admit it, there was only one way for me to get to the bottom of what was happening in this hidden room. I had no time to go running around The County Lodge to find any of the gang, even though I would've liked some company.

I quietly began to move, stepping my foot down on the first wooden step. One of my hands tightly clenched the wooden railing as I prayed for my parents guidance and protection in my head. With each step I took down this staircase, every stair quietly creaked beneath me, despite me trying to keep every one of my steps as quiet as possible.

When I took in a deep, quiet breath to help my heart get back on its usual speed, I was instantly greeted with the heavy mixed scents of heavy, stuffy air; and booze. That's when it finally hit my realization that I must've been in some type of wine cellar, considering the sour smell of alcohol, and it must've been secretly built a little underground the hotel. That would explain the air feeling heavy and smelling all dusty and stuffy.

Finally, I reached the bottom of the stairs, but I had to practically yank my hand off from the railing from being so nervous. I wish I had Darry, Soda, Dally, or even Two-Bit with me; anything was better than exploring around a huge hotel all by yourself when there are escaped mental patients on the lose. It makes me think back to that time before all of our lives almost changed completely. I was on my way home after stepping out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house. I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. It wasn't long before I heard a loud horn being honked repeatedly, getting closer on my tail. Socs...it's away Socs in their fancy mustangs and corvettes. Luckily, my calls for help when those Socs held me down and tried slugging me to death were heard. I'm pretty sure Kitten had the main Soc who slugged me first in a chokehold, and she was deeply cutting off his oxygen before another Soc caught her off guard and pushed her to the ground. She was alright; Kitten's always alright. She's pretty, too. But what mainly had me thinking back to that time was because Two-Bit joked about how I would like it if he was my bodyguard. I told him that I didn't think it was too hot of an idea, but right at this time, I sure wish that I could have anybody from the gang with me.

As I studied around the wine cellar, I could tell that nobody must've noticed that it was there for God knows how long. The walls looked worn down, chipped and completely whitewashed, and each upper corner was full of old spider webs. The floor was a dark grey color, created with cold and hard stone. There wasn't any furniture, but there were countless amounts of dark brown stands; each one looked like it was about to break at any moment with different glass bottles of booze, vodka, beer, and every other alcohol imaginable on each shelf. Man, if Two-Bit knew about this place, he probably would find a way to get a TV down here so he could drink and watch Mickey Mouse.

"Hello?" I confusedly gazed around the medium sized wine cellar to see if I could spot who or what made those weird noises. Unfortunately, I didn't see anyone, nor did anybody say anything back to get my attention. "...Hello?" I broke through my nervousness towards the strange silence and tried it again. I slowly turned my head left to right, but all I got was the same quietness. How was that possible? Was I going insane? No, I couldn't have been...these noises weren't coming from the inside of my head. I'm positive that they were coming from down here.

I confusedly narrowed my eyes and continued to glance all around at every inch of the wine cellar from where I wouldn't move my feet. The last time I was in a place that was this rundown, Johnny and I ended up saving a bunch of innocent little kids from a fire. Just thinking about smoking a weed in a place full of alcohol had chills spiking up my spine. One little accidental cigarette butt still on a good lit would instantly have the whole wine cellar down in flames, and it wouldn't be long before it traveled up the staircase and lit through the wall to burn down the rest of the hotel.

"Is anyone down here?" A lump began to form in my throat after I asked a question like that, but before I got the chance to even swallow, something else caught my attention. There were two of the wooden stands leaning up right next to each other, and each glass bottle full of alcohol on the stands were lined up differently; not a single space was left between any of the glasses of alcohol. It was as if somebody or something placed the bottles that way in order to hide something on the other side of the shelves.

Being the most curious one out of my brothers, I couldn't help myself to slowly begin my way over to those two shelves. I was practically on my tiptoes, but I could still hear the sounds of my footsteps forming beneath me. Strangely, they didn't sound like the footsteps that I previously heard; those footsteps were more hurried and they were very creaky...like my footsteps were when coming down the stairs.

With that thought now stuck in my head, the lump in my throat began to grow and become sore. No matter how many times I tried swallowing to get rid of it, my strong nervousness kept the painful bump where it was.

My heart was pounding in my chest to the point where it felt like it was about to explode. I'm not even sure it pounced this much when I ran for track! Unfortunately, there was something inside of me that wouldn't stop going on about how I just had to know what was behind those two stands. Quietly, I took in a deep breath and held it in for a couple of seconds before I released it. That's when I finally made it over to the two shelves, and I quietly grasped one of the glass bottles by its neck, picking it up and moving it out of my way. I couldn't help myself to keep it in my hand, clenching it carefully, but also hard enough to make it seem like I was ready to use it if I had to. Like Kitten, Johnny, and Cherry Valance, I thought that fighting was useless, but when it came to self-defense, I had no choice.

"Listen, I know that you're down here. I could hear you from the hallway upstairs." I hesitantly peeked through the opening that I created. Innocently, I then blinked and took in what I could see; just like I suspected, there was something behind those two stands. More wine cellar...oh boy, oh boy. It looked like there was a corner where somebody could chill around without being seen or caught when someone else came down the wooden stairs. However, none of that explained why or how I heard those footsteps, things getting shuffled around, and that glass bottle breaking.

"Hello? There's no point in tryin' to hide, okay? I know that you're here, so you might as well show your-" I was caught off guard, terrified out of my wits when an actual human hand shot out from the small opening of the one shelf. It roughly grabbed me by my reddish/brownish hair and yanked me forward, causing my face to slam into more of the glass bottles. Luckily, none of them shattered, otherwise I'd be smelling like alcohol, and my face could've gotten slit up.

My eyes nearly popped out of my head, and I fearfully yelled out "Self!" to finish what I was trying to finish before. Madly, I began to fearfully twist all around, and I tried hurriedly running away from the shelves to escape this hand. Unfortunately, whoever had a grip on a good handful of my hair wasn't giving up that easy.

"Ah! Let me go! Let me go!" All that was running rapidly through my head then was that one of the escaped mental patients must've grabbed me. They wanted to take me away, and since I was a teenager, they were most likely going to spread my blood before Darry, Soda, or anybody from the gang could get me back.

Whoever had my hair was yanking me to the point where I felt hot tears beginning to form in the corners of my eyes, thanks to my pain and absolute terror. They were pulling my hair so hard that I was surprised that they didn't yank it clear out of my head.

"Ow! Ah! Ah! Help! Help me! Somebody!" I was practically screaming at the top of my lungs, but this hotel was so huge and the last time I saw the gang, they were in the feasting hall together.

"Darry! Soda! Kitten! Somebody! Help me!" Still trying to pull away madly, I used my free hand to press against one of the shelves so I could try resisting being pulled forward anymore. That's when I realized that I was clenching the one bottle of alcohol that I had removed in order to spy on the other side of the two shelves in the first place. Usually I'd be against using any kind of weapon on anybody, but right at that moment, I didn't give a damn piece of crap!

"I said..." Steaming tears continued to flood in the corners of my eyes, and I slung my other arm back. "Let me the hell go!" Not waiting for another moment to slip by, I brought the glass bottle down with the roughest strength that I could serve. I didn't think that I was so strong, because whoever had my hair instantly released it when the glass shattered all over their arm, slightly cutting it up and drenching it with alcohol.

I touched my hair, quickly fixing it before I started to rub away the tears from my eyes. But just as I was about to flash myself around and bolt back up the stairs, something stopped me.

"Damn it! That stings like freakin' hell!"

That voice...it didn't sound like it belonged to some psychotic mental patient. It was a young man's voice; he sounded like he was probably around Johnny's age to me.

"What the..." I hesitantly approached the shelves again. After that, I quickly took away another glass bottle from the one shelf and this time, I carefully sat it down on the floor. When I then glanced back up, obviously nervous and scared as can be, I was surprised to see that I was right. There on the other side of the two shelves was this lean teenage boy, who was using what must've been his shirt to wrap around his arm after I clapped it with that one other beer bottle. He looked about Dally's height, dressed in a plain pair of worn out, dark blue jeans; and his dark red hair was about Johnny's length, but it reminded me of Cherry Valance's by its color. His eyes were just like hers too, shining green; but unlike Cherry's, his eyes scared me.

Without using my head, I said the first thing that came to mind. "You don't look like a killer."

The tan boy slowly turned his attention back to me, his eyes narrowed with confusion.

I nervously bit down on my bottom lip.

"Is this some kind of game you play, boy?" He motioned to his wrapped up arm.

Quickly, I shook my head. "Of course not. I only fight like that when it comes to self-defense." I was still pretty rattled up. "Who are you?"

At first, all that the tan boy did was stare at me, but I waited patiently. After a few seconds of quietness was passed, he finally shattered the silence.

"The names Carson...Carson Simons. What about you? You're sure as hell not who I thought you were."

Confusion began to flood in my eyes. This boy's name was Carson...and he grabbed my hair because he thought that I was somebody else...but who?

"...My name is Ponyboy Curtis." I introduced myself.

By the new look that Carson was giving me, I could tell that he was having a difficult time over if he should believe me or not. Just thinking that had my ears going red; I hated it when people judged me for my name. I wasn't the one who wanted to be named something this original, but after mine, Darry, and Soda's parents passed away, I actually like being named something so original. It helped me remember how happy-go-lucky my father was, and how much my mom loved him for his goofiness.

"That's..." Carson's voice broke off my thinking. "That's your real name?"

I nodded my head again, but this time wasn't as fast and nervous as before. "Yes, it's my real name...I even got an older brother named Sodapop. It says so on our birth certificates. We even have another older brother that we call Darry...my dad was a very original person."

"...I see..." Carson raised an eyebrow and touched his chin with his okay arm's index finger. "Well then, Ponyboy, why don't you come back here with me for a moment? I can tell that you want an explanation about why I'm down here and why I just did what I did to your hair."

I nervously brought my hand up to my mouth and bit down on my thumbnail. After my folks died in that awful auto-wreck, Darry taught me twice as hard in who to and not to trust. In half of Carson's case, I could tell that my family and friends would've approved of him instantly. However, the other half said that Darry, Soda, my parents, and the gang would tell me he was nothing but bad news, even though I didn't see how that mattered. I mean, Dally and Vinny were known as Tulsa and New York's most famous hoods, but they were still a part of our gang. Maybe it was because they weren't always like that.

"Kid, you don't have to be scared of me. I won't bite, you know?" Carson suddenly chuckled, which somewhat brought me out of my thoughts. I wasn't fully back to placing myself back in the present until I heard the sudden noise of glass bottles gently clicking together. That's when I shook my head, snapping out of it in time to witness Carson pull out quite a bit of the bottles of alcohol on the lowest shelf of the one stand we were talking to each other through.

"What are you doing?" I innocently tilted my head, obviously confused.

"I'm opening what others would probably call the doorway to this secret hideout that I made back here."

I unsuccessfully cocked an eyebrow at his response. "That you made?"

"That's right," replied Carson with a proud smirk like grin on his face. "Now come on, Ponyboy. I can't have you down here much longer. By the way, how old are you?"

Without waiting another second, I got down on my hands and knees. "I'm fourteen. How 'bout you?"

"I just turned seventeen last month." Carson answered, just as I made my upper body visible on his side of the shelves. "Here, Ponyboy, let me help you out there." Carson seemed okay in my mind; although, I could tell that he could turn into an exact replica of Dally if you ticked him off.

"Thanks, Carson." I thanked him as he gripped my arm and helped me back stand up. God, he looked taller up close.

"No problem, Ponyboy." He simply shrugged, right before he turned himself around. "Follow me, will you?"

I dusted myself off and hesitantly nodded. Carson headed around the corner, and I sooner followed him a couple of seconds later. To my surprise, all that was there was around the corner was a dead end, but there were some old crates with big black letters on them that said "Fragile" arranged to look like a throne, along with two other crates at the sides to be like desks, and another in front to look like a footrest. One of the "desks" were opened to reveal plenty of more bottles of alcohol, and beside it rested some broken glass.

Carson plopped himself down in the "throne" and kicked his dirty bare feet up on the "footrest."

I decided to stand still, remained at the corner with my back now against the wall.

"Did you make those old crates into a chair?" I asked, and Carson nodded. "Wow...that's pretty tuff."

"Thanks," Carson simply shrugged, right before he released a sigh. "I might as well make this explanation I promised you fast, because like I said before, you can't stay down here with me for much longer." I didn't know what to say, so I just kept my mouth shut and blinked. Carson, who must've known that I wasn't going to say anything, took in a deep breath and sat up straight in his homemade throne.

I quietly took down a nervous gulp, not knowing what to expect in this explanation of his.

"When I grabbed your hair like I did, I thought that you were Ashton Fisher. See, he and I used to be pretty tight..." He grew a small grin and snickered. "We sure did have some crazy times, plenty of them involving cigarettes and hot girls checkin' us out at clubs we've snuck into and whatnot..." He then looked regretful about something, giving me this look that said he had nothing to do with something. "Unfortunately, he changed out of nowhere after he met that Utopia Roberts...she's very sweet and bubbly, too good for Ashton...and he knows that, which is why he became such a no-good ass. All of those tuff times we had were like they were never there, and he turned himself into a hood. I even remember how he pulled his older sister's shirt up in front of me, and no matter how much she begged him not to do it...he cut off her bra with his switchblade and held her tightly in place so she could flash me. Man, I desperately hid my face as much as possible, but Ashton wouldn't have that..."

My eyes were gigantic, and my jaw felt like it fell straight down to the floor. Uncomfortable chills raced up and down my spine, causing the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck. This vampire looking Ashton was under the same roof as the gang and I, and that made me mostly worried for Kitten, Vinny, Cassidy, Jadelyn Thomas, Utopia, and the twins. Nonetheless, I didn't say a word, and Carson went on talking.

"But Ashton turnin' himself into a complete bitch just because he has such a doll like Utopia to call his girlfriend isn't the reason why we're not exactly friends anymore..." Carson gazed down at his hands, which were now folded on his lap, and he nervously twirled his thumbs around.

I waited patiently to see if Carson would go on, but when nothing but silence began to surround us, I couldn't help myself to find my voice and break the quietness. I was curious all over again.

Hesitantly, I softly asked, "...Then what is the actual reason, Carson?"

Still fiddling around with his fingernails, Carson peeked back up from his lap and glanced at me. His green eyes were glowing with plead, as if he was asking me to help him, but I had no idea what could've got him so upset all of the sudden. Sure, those things he just told me about Ashton were awful, but what was it that struck him in the heart?

"Ashton began to hang out with the wrong people...when he first introduced me to them after a month or so passed with him hanging out with them, I instantly hated them to death. I called 'em the rough crowd right after I first laid my eyes on them. Why'd I hate them, you may be wondering, hm?" Carson's eyes narrowed with anger, but it wasn't towards me. I knew that it wasn't. "Well, they were nothin' but a bunch of dumbass teenagers who did nothin' all day but wear tattered, very revealing clothes; and they popped damn pills and they drunk all day before they "partied" all night...and by "partied" all freakin' night, I mean that they took turns doing the deed with each other, or they picked up random people their age to have it with." The anger vanished from Carson's face, and a sorrow full puppy look appeared all over again. It was as if he was never mad. "Ashton wasn't even high or drunk half of the damn time, but he went ahead and had sex with any hot girl he could get his hands on."

My heart took a startled leap in my chest. "But what about Utopia?"

"What do you think?" Carson narrowed his eyes again. "He always does the deed with any girl he thinks is hot, whether he's drunk or high or not. Utopia still doesn't have the slightest clue 'bout his cheating ass, but I never bothered to tell her. We grew pretty close and became good buddies, so I didn't want to risk seein' her brokenhearted."

I was too shocked to say another word, so I only bit down on my bottom lip and nodded.

"Anyway," Carson went on with his explanation. "I followed Ashton's ass ever since he ditched New York for winter break. I swore revenge on him after what he freakin' did to me...you see, Ponyboy, I got sick as hell with goin' to fetch Ashton's ass in the dead night, especially on the cold streets of New York of all places. So, I left a little earlier than usual to get a head start, but when I got to the lot where Ashton and his so-called freaking pals were..." Carson's voice cracked a little, but we continued talking. "Ashton drank too damn much and he literally did get drunk...and he demanded his wasted "friends" to attack me...I was freakin' pounded nearly to death, being punched in the face, kicked in the gut, slammed in the chest, swung in the back...I was in very bad shape by the time that those bitches decided to back off and just mockingly point and laugh at me. I was too damn weak to move a muscle, moaning in pain to myself as I laid there on the cold ground...but just when I thought that things couldn't get any worse for me...I felt my pants get tugged off, and after I saw who was undressing me, they slammed me over the head with a bottle and knocked me out..."

I could've sworn I went as pale as a sheet. "Don't tell me that it was-"

"Ashton...yes, I'm afraid that I have no choice to tell you that it was Ashton who freakin' raped me..." Carson took down a big gulp. "But you know something? Ponyboy, what really got my chain rattled was when I woke up in the hospital the next morning...I was bandaged up, covered with many different dark bruises and scrapes. Hell, I'm pretty damn sure those bitches busted half of my bones and ribs. I'm still surprised that I was still able to walk after getting attacked like that..." Carson began to rub the back of his neck with his okay arm's hand. "Unfortunately, I'd rather take not bein' able to walk thanks to Ashton's bitches over what that bastard Ashton himself gave me...here I am, now seventeen...and I wanted to be a virgin until I was married to a pretty girl who would carry my babies...but now, that's all freakin' ruined because Ashton took away my virginity and replaced it with damn AIDS."

"What?" I couldn't help myself to gasp. I felt like a sour bomb just went off in the pit of my stomach.

Regretfully, Carson nodded his head and ran his good hand through his red hair. "My doctor told me that my tests had shown that I have been sexually active...certain levels were higher than others...and I was cursed with an STD thanks to Ashton. I don't have the slightest idea when my time will come either, but I think it'll be a little over a year before...you know, I have no choice but to leave."

I could've sworn I felt my heart rip a little. "What did your parents say about this? Any siblings?"

"My parents are gone," Carson sighed. "My mom died in a fire and my old man went MIA before they found him all shot up in Vietnam. As for any siblings, I have two twin siblings...one brother and one sister, but they don't know that this happened to me. My brother is engaged to his girlfriend and off in Vietnam himself, and my sister recently decided to get pregnant with her boyfriend since they're plannin' to get married next year. I live with my aunt and uncle right now, and they're expecting their second baby."

"I take it that you didn't tell them about Ashton?"

"I couldn't," Carson shook his head. "I can't stress my auntie out since she's pregnant, and my uncle is gettin' things ready for the baby. I told them that I was going to take a trip away from home for winter break, and just like I told you before, I came for my revenge on Ashton."

"But how are you goin' to get any kind of revenge on him with you down here in this secret wine cellar?" I confusedly narrowed my eyes, but what made me feel more uncomfortable was when Carson had this evil look glimmer in his eyes, and he smirked widely.

"Believe me, Ponyboy," He deviously chuckled. "I don't think we need to worry about that..." Silence began to stir around in the wine cellar between the two of us. That is, before Carson softly said with that smirk still on his face, "I think you should be on your way now, Ponyboy."

"How come?" I innocently asked. "Why do you want to be alone so much? How did you even sneak into this hotel in the first place?"

Carson rolled his eyes. "This place may be locked up tighter than a bank in gang territory at night, but durin' the day, the service this winter break is too damn crumby for anybody to catch people like me sneakin' in." This serious expression formed on his face, and he swiped up a bottle of alcohol from the one open crate. "Now head off, Ponyboy. Don't tell anyone about me or this wine cellar, all right? Now go on and leave me be."

"But Carson-"

"Now, Ponyboy! Now!" Carson surprisingly sounded furious all of the sudden, as if he turned into somebody from the Shepard gang. His face looked as red as the devil's, and his teeth were now clenched tightly.

My eyes became huge with fear, and without waiting for another moment, I flashed myself around and bolted around the corner. Carson didn't say anything else and neither did I. Instead, I accidentally fell down from tripping over my own feet, but I only continued hurrying off like Carson commanded me to do. Quickly, I crawled back over to the other side of the two shelves and pushed myself back up on my feet. Then I dashed all over again, racing through the wine cellar like my life depended on it, but even though I was in a hurry, I couldn't help to notice that I could've sworn I saw some dark figure just standing down at one of the aisles of different shelves of cluttered alcohol. Nevertheless, I was in such a hurry that I shook it off and considered it a part of my imagination. I bolted up the stairs; breathing rapidly, but quietly as my heart jumped faster and faster, and before I knew it, I was back up in the one hallway of The County Lodge.

I put my hands on my knees and panted heavily, but when I gazed back up at the secret passageway, I witnessed the door close all by itself. It was like somebody was standing behind it and waiting for me to get out. That thought had me paling whiter than a ghost, but just as I was about to start running back in the direction from where I came from to begin with, somebody strong threw their arms around me.

I instantly yelped, but just as I began to struggle, I saw who the person was. They grabbed me by my shoulders and spun me around to face them. Darry...it was only Darry...oh boy, I was in much trouble.

"Ponyboy, what in the hell were you thinking?" Darry demanded to know, shaking me a little. "Didn't you hear me tell you and the rest of the gang to stay in the feasting hall? You could've gotten kidnapped!"

"I know, Darry, I know." I honestly spoke. "Can you please stop shakin' me?"

Darry sighed and listened to me, but he wouldn't let my shoulders go.

"Are you alright, Pony?" He seemed like he was trying to calm himself down.

I hesitantly nodded. "Yeah, Darry, I'm okay."

"Okay...where did you go anyway? You look like you just got done runnin' a marathon."

I wish I just got done running a marathon. Carson's voice began to ring in my head...he told me not to tell anybody about him or the wine cellar...but by the way he acted towards me before I ran would scar me forever. It was as if he was never kind or helpful to begin with; something wasn't right about him...

"Well, Ponyboy? Where were you?" Darry repeated his question after I didn't answer the first time.

"Sorry, Darry," I then shrugged my shoulders. "I was just walkin' around the hallways."

Darry pointed at my nose. "Well, I don't want you going anywhere by yourself from here on out, okay? We got to stick together."

I nodded, and to my surprise, Darry then had me in a giant bear hug like Soda would do in a time like that. After what happened in the wine cellar, I was relieved to death, and I connected my arms around Darry to return my half of the hug.

"Darry! Darry!" A sudden male voice came ringing from the opposite end of the hallway.

"Superman, we see you found the kid!" A female voice then announced.

Darry and I parted, knowing those voices by heart, and just like we suspected, here came Two-Bit and Vinny.

"I ain't a kid, Vinny." I stuffed my hands into my worn out jeans pockets and rolled my eyes at the term.

"Just be glad I didn't call you a preschooler, Ponyboy." Vinny rolled her eyes at me. Sometimes she really tugged at my leash, but what really got me steamed was the fact that she liked it. I wonder at times why Two-Bit even has a crush on her, but I always tell myself that she wasn't always like this.

"All right, that's 'nough, you two." Darry instructed, pointing at Vinny at one moment, and then at me the next. He then gazed at Two-Bit. "What's going on?"

"Well...you might want to see your truck and the Shepard's SUV, Superman..." Two-Bit huffed.

Kitten's POV

I stood still with my hands jammed in my jean jackets pockets, wide-eyed at the sight of Darry's tires suddenly slashed.

Dally was cursing at the top of his lungs, running his hands madly through his hair as he paced back and forth. Jadelyn Thomas tightly clenched her dog, Zeus' leash as he howled along with Dally's mad cussing.

Johnnycake stood beside me, nibbling on his thumbnail nervously. To help keep her calm, I comfortingly hooked one of my arms around his shoulders and tried my best to offer him a smile. The least I could do was give him only a small piece of a grin though.

Soda was still looking for Cassidy, and Two-Bit and Vinny had went off to go find Darry and Ponyboy.

"How does it look under there, Steve?" I nudged him gently with my foot. Steve was on his hands and knees, peeking underneath Darry's truck to see how everything looked underneath it.

"Everythin' seems fine under here. The gas tank is all right and there isn't any parts out of place." reported Steve as he stood back up from the ground and dusted himself off. "Whoever did this to our vehicles decided to just mess 'round with what we can see, I guess."

How in the hell could this happen though?" Tim violently barked, examining the doors of his rusty SUV to realize how they were actually all scratched up with what looked like animal claw marks.

Angela and Curly sat still on the hood, Curly looked extremely worried while Angela rolled her eyes.

"Relax, Tim. It's better our cars than us." Angela pointed out, and as much as I didn't get along with her at times, I knew that she was right about that.

However, Tim was too furious to deal with her, pointing one of his fingers warningly at her face. "You better freakin' shut your trap before I decide to ditch your ass in the middle of nowhere!"

"Tim, lay off 'er. She may be a spoiled son of a bitch, but she has a damn point, man." Dally madly dived one of his hands into his leather jackets pockets, but he only went on cursing at the sky when nothing came out in his hand.

Steve headed over to the Shepard's SUV and began to examine it for himself.

"Does anybody have a weed I could use? I left my pack in my other jacket. What 'bout you, Johnnycake?" He gave Johnny's shoulder a little nudge.

"Sorry, Dal," Johnny sighed and shook his head. "But I'm tryin' to quit, remember?"

Dally did a face-palm and went on cussing under his breath.

I would've said something, but I wasn't in the mood, so I just rolled my emerald green eyes. I smoked once and hated it instantly, considering it made me feel like I was hacking my lungs out. Never again did I touch another cancer stick, unless I was handing a pack over after picking some up for one of the others in the gang.

"Hey, Dally, you can have one of my cancer sticks." Curly brought out a fresh pack from his pocket and opened it.

Tim narrowed his eyes. "I thought you quit, Curly."

Curly held a cigarette between two of his fingers and shrugged after Dally snatched it away from him, lighting it up almost instantly.

"I couldn't risk leavin' Tulsa without them for a whole break, Tim." explained an innocent sounding Curly.

"They're cancer sticks, not a freakin' puppy, Curly." Tim ran a hand through his hair and went on cussing to himself, right before he held out his other hand. "Give me that pack, Curly. I'm cuttin' you off."

"Aw, come on, Tim-"

"No, Curly! Give me the damn cigarettes!"

As if he was some little kid, Curly pouted and gazed at his pack like it was a toy. Nevertheless, he closed his eyes and sighed, handing it over to Tim since he knew that Tim wasn't patient, and if they got into a fight, Tim would win in no time.

"That's more like it." Tim sternly nodded and stuffed the pack of cancer sticks into his pocket.

I rolled my eyes. "I still wonder why I almost bothered to go out with one of your members, Shepard."

"Which one?" Angela cocked an eyebrow, smirking at me.

Dally took a drag of his cigarette and blew out a perfect smoke ring. "Maybe it's because you dated that Jesse Sheldon bitch for a while." He nudged my arm.

"Please," I growled like a junkyard dog. "I still don't see why in the hell I went out with some prick like him, so you can shut your trap, Dallas Winston!"

"Calm down, Kitty," caringly shushed Johnny. "Everythin' is fine now...that was in the past."

I bit down on my bottom lip and sighed. "I know...but it still feels so real."

Understandingly, Johnny nodded.

"You're a smartass, you know that, Andrews?" Dally addressed me by my last name.

"For your freakin' information, I do. Growin' up being ignored by two Soc parents who love your four little brothers more than you will do that to you, I'm sure." I then turned my head and flashed Dally a small smirk. "But do you think that I give a damn about how much of a smartass I can be?"

Jadelyn Thomas instantly smirked at my response, and I could tell that Dally was trying his best not to expose any kind of smirk. That instantly drained away from his mind when he started to pay more attention to Darry's truck again.

"Damn it! I'm goin' to freakin' strangle these mental patients throats!"

Just then, the main glass doors of The County Lodge flew open, and here came Two-Bit and Vinny running out with Darry and Ponyboy bolting on their tails. When Pony and Darry saw how the tires were slashed, their eyes instantly grew and their mouths fell open.

"My truck!" Darry practically hollered for the whole world to hear. "This was my father's truck that I used to help him wash and fix up!"

"At least your tires are only slashed," retorted Tim in a smartass voice. "My vehicle is all scratched up and everything."

"Just stick a damn cork in it already, Tim!" Dally demanded, obviously not in the mood.

I gazed at Ponyboy and grinned a little, relieved to know that he was safe. "Hey, Ponyboy."

He smiled some back and waved slightly. "Hi, Kit-Cat."

Nevertheless, our grins were long gone when we paid attention to our cars again.

"Those escaped mental patients don't know when to stop!" hissed Angela as she stubbornly flew her arms across her breasts.

Darry rubbed his temples, obviously trying to hold back his rage and remain calm. "And it's up to us to get 'em to stop once and for all."

Two-Bit confusedly cocked an eyebrow. "What are you talkin' about, Superman? Is the fuzz going to be showin' up anytime soon?"

"No," Darry sighed and shook his head. "Unfortunately, the phone lines were cut by one or more of those mental patients and Mr. Roberts couldn't get a hold of the police."

"So that's it? This is all up to us now?" Curly, who was now as pale as a ghost, questioned.

Again, Darry sighed. "Yes, but if we do what we're best at, which is sticking together, I'm pretty sure that we can do this."

"Pretty sure?" Vinny commanded. She placed her hands on her hips. "Darry, like you said earlier, these are-"

"Escaped mental patients, I know," Darry rolled his eyes. "But if we can each handle livin' in a hell hole like Tulsa, I think if we keep each others backs safe, we can get to the bottom of this mystery."

"...But how?" Ponyboy confusedly narrowed his eyes. Darry looked at him and placed an arm around his shoulders.

"Well, Ponyboy, like they do in those mystery horror films, we're goin' to make sure that none of us split up unless we're with somebody else. Other than that, all we need to do is start searching for Jocelyn." Darry instructed.

Jade was then technically dragged over to Darry's truck, considering Zeus looked like he was on the move about something. He was smelling away like there was no tomorrow, scampering all around the truck until he suddenly glanced up and got himself into a pointing position. Then he began to howl and bark like his life depended on it.

"Can't you shut that damn dog up, Jade?" Tim demanded, going on with a string of cuss words as he rubbed the side of his head.

Jade shot him a look that gave it away that she was getting pretty annoyed with him very quickly. Nonetheless, she didn't bother to say anything to him.

"Tim, if we had a muzzle, I'm pretty damn sure you'd be the one we'd put it on!" Angela pointed out.

With a beating red glare now spread madly across his face, Tim raised both of his middle fingers at Angela. Though before he could bother saying anything to her, he reclosed his mouth when Jade's voice was heard, beating him to it.

"Wait! Wait! I think somethin' just triggered Zeus' hunting and tracking instinct!"

Everybody instantly became still, and we each glanced at the barking dog to notice how fast his tail was wagging. Still in the pointing position, I decided to stare straight ahead to realize where he was pointing. Across the road from The County Lodge was the woods.

"He must've picked up the scents of who did this to the cars!" I gasped, surprised. "That means he can possibly lead us to where Jocelyn is! Or he could at least show us who took her!"

"But the woods? Really?" Two-Bit nibbled on his thumbnail a bit. "I'm not sure in how most horror films turn out for people who go into the woods, but I'm pretty damn sure that the woods is one of the main places where you never want to head off to alone."

Jade placed her free hand on her hip and smirked knowingly. "Newsflash, Two-Bit, I won't be alone. I have my Zeus here; he's been protecting my family and I ever since he was a pup."

Tim cocked an eyebrow, his thumbs now hooked into his pockets, and he stared at Zeus, studying him for a few seconds. Then he rolled his eyes and said, "Those must've been some spineless burglars and gangsters then."

"Hey," Darry pointed a finger at the oldest Shepard. "That's 'nough negativity out of you, you hear? We're each goin' through enough right now, and your mouth is sure as hell not going to help us."

Out of everybody in the gang, Darry was the only one who Tim wouldn't bother to smart off to. Darry was the leader of our gang, very protective and he used his muscles whenever he had no choice but to sit somebody straight.

Tim raised his hands up to his shoulders, not bothering to say another word to the eldest Curtis or anybody for that matter.

"That's better, Shepard," Darry nodded a single time, right before he glanced back at Jade. "Look, Zeus may be a tough lookin' dog, but you can't go without another human watchin' your back. We can't risk anymore people gettin' kidnapped."

Jade bit down on her bottom lip and nibbled on it. "Hm...then who can come with me?"

At first, all that came was silence for her answer, but after a few of us exchanged looks back and forth, Dally surprisingly stepped up.

"I'll go with you," He simply shrugged. "...Unless you'd prefer a more legal greaser as your company."

Jade raised her eyebrows at him. "We're on a vacation that's no longer a vacation, but apparently a damn life and death situation mystery. I'm pretty damn sure anythin' legal is out the window by now, Winston."

Dally rolled his eyes, as if he was saying "Are you freaking kidding me?"

"I was bein' sarcastic, smartass." He mumbled.

"Lay off her, Dally!" I almost instantly hissed at him, right before I turned my attention over to Jade. "I'll come along with you, too. Anythin' is better than being alone with such a dangerous greaser like Dally in some woods when there are escaped mental patients on the lose."

Dally narrowed his eyes at me, but instead of saying anything to my face, he cursed under his breath. He knew who I was so well.

Jade offered me a smirk like grin, and in return, I smiled a little back. We dug each other real well, and it felt good to have another female feel a part of the gang.

"All right," Darry huffed. "The three of you, take Zeus and stay as close as possible in the woods when searching around for anything that can relate to Jocelyn or the escaped mental patients. Be very careful though."

Understandingly, Jade and I nodded, but Dally only continued to smoke his cancer stick like he was listening to his parole officer.

"In the mean time, we'll search for more clues around the hotel." Darry added, motioning to the rest of the gang, including the Shepard's. "Don't stay in the woods for too long either. Now let's get to it!"

I stuck to one side of Dally while Jade stuck to the other, and the three of us began our way across the street with Zeus practically dragging Jade all over again. The rest of the gang and the Shepard's, on the other hand, headed back inside of The County Lodge, but it was too bad that none of us realized that different pairs of evil eyes were watching every move we were making. As for Dally, Jade, Zeus, and I, we were too caught up in heading into the woods that we didn't pay any mind into noticing how somebody was stalking after us.

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