359 Days Ago
Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was past midnight when I finally woke up. My throat felt raw and dry, and when I opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything at first. It took me a moment to realize that the reason I couldn’t see was that there was a bag over my head. The tiny bit of air that I was getting was stale and tasted terrible.
In my surprise, I tried to jerk my hands, which were above my head, down. They barely moved, and I could feel coarse rope digging into them painfully.
“What–what…” I had time to stammer, letting all bear witness to my stunning coolness under pressure, before the bag was yanked away.
Now I could look at my captors, and I briefly wished for the return of the blissful blindness, because they did not look happy to see me.
Zeke and Dayle were both there, whichever was which. Also there was the guy I had knocked out in Ges’s house, and a man who looked so old he might have been George Washington’s grandpappy. There were more wrinkles lining the elderly codger’s face than I had ever seen on a single living person before.
We were in what appeared to be an unfinished basement somewhere. Over their shoulders I could see where half of the basement had been carpeted, had lights strung up, and was furnished with an ancient looking television that faced a musty old couch next to a coffee table.
The spot we were in, on the other hand, was nothing but blank cement and a couple of drains in the floor that were stained with stuff I didn’t even want to think about. Just above and to my right was a window that had been covered in metal bars, and about ten feet to my left, in the corner of the room, was a water heater. If I strained far enough to the left, I could just barely make out the edge of the stairs.
In addition to my arms being tied above my head, there was more rope binding my ankles together. You know, just in case I wasn’t helpless enough already. I was almost surprised that they hadn’t put one of those Hannibal Lector masks on me so I wouldn’t bite them. But, then again, the night was young.
It was the old man who had taken the bag off my head. I focused on him. “Where am I?” I asked, though I should probably be honest and admit that my tone was far more the confused child than the resistant and brave defender of the innocent I would have preferred in hindsight.
“Her?” The codger could not have sounded more doubtful if he had been questioning the authenticity of seven million dollar coin pulled from a child’s shattered piggy bank. “I don’t believe it.”
“It was her phone, Paps.” The blond man in the tweed suit announced. “We found it by the restaurant. And she was at the old man’s house. Plus we sorta saw her in there with the girl. I mean, I think it was her. It was real quick, you know, and–”
“Shut up, Dayle.” The geezer replied. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Okay, so, I knew which one was Dayle and which one was Zeke. And this man was apparently Dayle’s grandfather? Or his great-grandfather. Or, given his apparent age, maybe a few more greats.
“Listen,” I started to say, “I don’t know who you are or what you want. But I’m really not important.”
Zeke, the tattooed hefty guy, smiled. “So no one’s gonna care when you never show up again?”
I gulped. Okay, this took the fear I had felt earlier to whole new levels of as-yet undiscovered terror. “Don’t–” My voice cracked. The single word was all I could say. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” The guy who had been in Ges’s house asked with a dangerous look in his eyes. “Don’t kill you? Don’t hurt you? Don’t pay you back for your stupid little stunt back there? You know what you took from us, little girl? You know how much we could hurt you for it?”
“That’s enough, Gerald.” The old man finally put a name to the last guy’s face for me, his tone remaining even. “All of you, be quiet. The child and I are going to have a chat.”
Some absurd part of me felt like pointing out that I wasn’t a child; I was only four months shy of my eighteenth birthday. I pushed that relatively suicidal part away and continued to stare at the old man without comment.
“Now then,” the man cleared his throat roughly and then continued, “your name is Savannah Crest. I am Dr. Kansas Trude, and these are my great grandsons: Zeke, Dayle, and Gerald.”
Great, so now I knew they were all related to this old fart. Excuse me, Dr. Fart.
“You must be proud.” I had no idea how that little remark slipped out of my mouth, but I regretted it instantly as his hand slapped my face hard enough to leave a mark. I hadn’t even seen him start to move.
“I did not ask you a question.” Kansas informed me, his tone remaining level. “Do refrain from speaking again unless in direct and honest reply to a question, Savannah.”
He continued to hold my gaze for a moment before going on. “The child you stole from us, did you return her to the police department or to her family?”
The question made me blink. Part of me wanted to refuse to answer, but it was just such a strange thing to ask. Plus I was too scared to try and lie. “I… I sent her to the police.” My mouth felt even dryer than it had when I woke up, and it was difficult to work up enough spit to swallow. “She’s with them now.”
“That’s a good girl.” Kansas praised me like a damn puppy. “That was a test, and you told the truth. See, no one had to be hurt. This can all be relatively painless if you keep being honest.”
His side glance at the men told me that was a lie, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to call him on it. He continued with his next question, “How did you manage to dispatch my Gerald at the house, hmmm?”
The honest answer would have been that I had no idea how I’d done it. The absolutely honest answer would have been that somehow I was borrowing skills from other people just by thinking about them. Something told me that saying either would have been the wrong choice. Call me crazy, but this didn’t seem like a perfectly rational group of people.
Instead, I lied. “H-how did I dispatch Gerald at the house? That wasn’t me.”
I saw the dangerous look in the old man’s eyes as his mouth opened. I didn’t know what he was planning to say, but it wouldn’t be anything good for me. Quickly, I amended. “I mean, I was there. But it wasn’t me. I mean, look at me. I’m not some black belt secret agent special ops ninja. I got a B minus in gym.”
Zeke interrupted scornfully, “How the hell do you get a B minus in gym?”
Absurdly, I shrugged as much as my bonds would allow. “They’re really strict about the whole dressing out every day thing. And I really didn’t like all the running. They really like to make you run.”
“Really?” Zeke frowned. “I remember lots of wrestling and that rope climbing stuff. I wonder if–”
Great Pappy Kansas’s voice cut in as his patience snapped. “Would you please shut up, you idiot?” He spoke through gritted teeth, his bony elbow jamming solidly into the tattooed man’s side. “We know you were there, little girl. You stole my Gerald’s car.”
“Yeah…” I was coming up with this explanation as I went. “I was there, but it wasn’t me that attacked him. It was this… girl.”
“What girl?” Kansas demanded, holding a hand up to stop the men from interrupting.
My brain raced for lies. Never before had I wished so much to have a better imagination. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know who she is. She’s sort of a…” I thought of Paragon, “sort of a superhero.”
That drew several snorts of derision. Kansas rolled his eyes. “A superhero, really? Which one?”
Oh boy. “She’s not one you’d know. She’s new.”
“What’s her name?” Gerald actually sounded curious, as if he really wanted to know which superheroine had knocked him out.
Of course, I had absolutely no idea. I needed a name for my fake superhero that would get these guys off my back and send them on a wild goose chase, without pointing them at anyone real.
“Her name? Her name is…” I trailed off, thinking of what had gotten me into all of this, my obsession with Paragon. If I could have just left him alone, none of this would have happened. But no, I’d been obsessed with him, fixated on the man.
“Fix… Fixation.” I finally said, straightening a little my arms cramped up from being pulled above my head. “Her name is Fixation.”
“Fixation?” Gerald sounded it out with a frown.
Zeke nudged him. “Dude, you didn’t just get taken out by a girl. You got taken out by a girl with a stupid ass name like that.”
I was offended on multiple levels, but I kept it to myself.
“And what does this Fixation girl look like, exactly?” Grandpa Kansas asked with a tone of disbelief.
“Yeah,” Dale in his tweed suit added, “is she hot?”
Zeke scoffed. “Of course she’s hot, you idiot. She’s one of those super types, isn’t she? So she’s gotta be smokin'”
I… honestly wasn’t sure if I was offended or not. Skeeved out, yes, but the logistics on whether I should be offended were a bit murky at the moment.
Luckily, I didn’t have time to dwell on that subject, as the loud buzzing of a doorbell filled the air.
“Oh for the love of–” Kansas sighed. “Dale, Zeke, come with me and see who the hell that is. Gerald, watch the girl.”
The three of them walked up the stairs, but I honestly didn’t feel any safer with just one guy keeping an eye on me than when all four of them had. With my arms tied up above my head, there still wasn’t a lot I could do. Especially not with Gerald standing well out of kicking distance, even if I could manage to hoist myself up that way with my ankles bound together.
“So…” Gerald stared at me consideringly. “You never answered. That girl that knocked me out, the chick that got lucky. Is she hot? Just, you know, compared to you. Higher, or ahhh, lower? I’d just like to know if I’d rather it be her or ahhh, you we picked up.”
Okay, now I was definitely beyond offended, and incredibly skeeved out.
“Man, you are one disgusting son of a bitch.”
Unless I had suddenly developed a particular knack for both disguising my voice and throwing it across the room (which I will admit is not entirely out of the question considering the random assortment of skills I had displayed thus far), that hadn’t been me.
Both I and Gerald looked toward the voice as a rather large figure emerged from the direction of the stairs. Gerald’s mouth opened, but before he could speak or shout or whatever he was planning on doing, a fist impacted the guy hard enough in the face to knock his head sideways.
Then Eric James had his arm wrapped tightly around Gerald’s throat, braced against his other arm as he forcefully choked the man into unconsciousness.
“Couldn’t you have just choked him out in the first place without getting his attention?” I felt the need to ask.
“Yeah,” Eric nodded, “But after that trash he was spewing, I wanted the excuse to hit him.”
In spite of myself, I felt a blush creep up that had nothing to do with the ridiculous position I was in. Hurriedly, I changed the subject. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you know.” He gave me a look while taking a four inch hunting knife from its sheath at his belt. “I joined this intense scavenger hunt and the last thing on my list was ‘teenaged girl tied up in psychopath’s basement’. If we hurry, I think I can pull out a win.”
While he was mocking me, Eric used the knife to cut the rope that held my arms above my head, and then steadied me when my legs went weak. He cut the rope finding my hands together before pressing the handle of the knife into my hand. “Cut your legs free. I’m going to check on the ones upstairs.”
I crouched and sawed at the ropes around my ankles with the knife. They were thick knots, and it took a little time to cut through them. “How did you–” I started to ask how he had known where I was, and glanced up. Eric had one foot on the steps and was clearly listening to whatever was going on above. But that meant he was missing the fact that Gerald had sat up and brought small snub-nosed revolver toward him.
My eyes went wide, and I acted on instinct. The knife in my hand would have meant nothing to me. I was too far away to reach the other man, and if I had thrown it, I was more likely to hit Eric or myself (somehow) than the guy I was aiming for.
At least, that’s how it would have been if I had thrown it using my own skill. But Eric was right there. Eric James, the guy whose knife this actually was. With all of his training, he knew how to throw it properly. Without thinking or dwelling on it, I simply wished for Eric’s skill with the knife and then cocked my hand back and threw.
The blade flew in a perfect arc to drive itself directly into Gerald’s wrist a second before the gun went off. His aim was jerked off as he screamed over the sound of the gunshot (which was terrifyingly loud anyway in these close confines), and the gun itself flew from his hand to skid cross the floor.
Well, if the group upstairs hadn’t known something was going on before, they sure as hell knew now. From some distant part of the house, loud footsteps thundered as my abductors rushed back.
Eric whirled at the gunshot and took a quick step at the injured thug, bringing his booted foot up into Gerald’s face to put him down. Bad guy dealt with, he just stared at me for a second as his mind took in the scene and his expression briefly turned incredulous.
“Lucky try.” I offered before shoving the remains of the ropes away. “Lucky for both of us, I mean. Come on, come on, come on.” Then I paused. “Uhh, how do we get out of here?”
The question made him frown. “If it was just me, I could get past these losers. But you could get hurt.”
Glancing in the direction of the rushing footsteps, I rolled my eyes. “Don’t they teach you army guys to have an exit strategy?” I quickly darted toward the gun that Gerald had dropped when the knife hit him. Having no idea how to use a gun, I looked at it blankly for a moment.
Gerald did know how to use it. It was his gun after all.
The footsteps thundered down the stairs, voices shouting demands to know if Gerald had killed me. I guess the idea that I had actually overwhelmed the guy, taken his weapon, and shot him myself was entirely out of the realm of possibility to them.
Yeah, I didn’t blame them either.
Borrowing Gerald’s skill with his own gun, I brought the weapon up and hissed at my liberator. “Get back.”
He frowned. “The hell? I’m on your–”
There wasn’t time for arguments, but my eyes still rolled back into my skull. “No, idiot.” I waved with a free hand, motioning him to get out of sight behind the stairs. “Get back before they see you.”
Thankfully, he got what I meant before it was too late, and moved out of sight. That left me standing over the unconscious Gerald, holding his gun, when his two brothers or cousins or whatever they were and their great-grandfather arrived.
“Hey there.” I forced a note of casual admiration into my voice as they all halted at the sight of me holding a gun on them. I wanted their attention on me, not behind them. Being flippant was just the first thing that came to mind. Okay, I lied. Begging for my life was the first thing that came to mind. But they’d pissed me off, and I was already tired of being a victim. “Doc, you are really spry for someone with great grandkids. I bet you could make a fortune off your exercise and diet regimen. Come on, you can level with me. What’s your secret?”
Zeke took a step my way with that cry, and I turned the gun on him to shout, “Hey!” I kept the gun leveled his way, trusting Gerald’s own skill to make up for my shattered nerves. “Are you just counting on that incredibly thick skull to save your life? Because if you are, I have to be honest, I’m kind of aiming at your balls.”
He halted, glaring daggers of pure hate. “What the fuck did you do to my cousin, you little bitch?”
“Yes, that is a very good question.” Great Grandpappy Kansas’s suspicious eyes moved from the knife that had pierced his great grandson’s hand, back to up to me. “What exactly did you do?”
“Oh, you know. We talked a bit. He was saying how he’d never actually need a girlfriend as long as he’s got that right hand of his. Then I guess his hand sort of panicked and committed some sort of ritual suicide at the idea.” I honestly had no idea where these words were coming from. It was as if, given the chance after this last week of depression and fear, my snark generator was going into overload.
“That’s it.” Dayle had apparently had enough of me. “You don’t even know how to use that. I’m gonna teach you some manners you fucking–”
“Good idea.” Eric finally spoke up, fading in from the shadows of the stairway like a ghost. He had another knife, which he placed against the tweed-suited man’s throat. “Let’s start the manners lesson with, ‘never talk to a woman like that’. Care to guess what your prize for passing the class might be?”
Dayle froze. His eyes were even wider now, as were Zeke’s. “What the fuck? Who are you?”
“I’m the man holding the knife really close to your throat.” Eric answered honestly. “Crazypants Lad and Grandpa Crazypants,” he said to Zeke and Kansas respectively. “Please step over to where you had the young woman tied up.”
Reluctantly, they acquiesced. Kansas looked from the gun that I was still holding on them, to the knife at his great grandson’s throat and chuckled.
I couldn’t help myself. “What’s so funny?”
His shoulder raised in a shrug as he shook his head. “Nothing. I just wonder if this boy thinks you’re actually worth this much trouble. Especially after what you did.”
That made me blink as my heart leapt to my throat. “I–I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He couldn’t have meant what I thought.
“Yes you do.” The man met my gaze, and then laughed once more. This time, however, his mouth remained closed. The laughter continued, but it wasn’t the old man.
Impossibly, the man’s shadow, cast from the overhead light, seemed to grow and contort. While I stared in confusion, the shadow rose and formed an inky black body that seemed to be composed of dark oil. It looked sort of like the villain from that old Fern Gully movie, only uglier. And, I was willing to bet it didn’t have Tim Curry’s singing voice.
The old man slumped, raising weary eyes toward me as he pleaded, “Run, child. It’s… strong…”
The thing that had been his shadow laughed some more before shoving the elderly man to the ground with a cry. Then it turned toward me directly. “You have what I have spent so much to gain. You will give it to me.”
“I… I don’t have anything.” I backed up, forgetting the gun for a moment in the wake of this insanity.
“You have the skill.” The shadow-oil creature took a step toward me. “The rest would come in time.”
Eric put himself between us. “Get the hell away from her.”
He reached for the creature, but his hand simply went through the oily substance. The thing chuckled once more and then lashed out with an arm. The blow sent Eric sidelong into the wall.
Then it was reaching that black, oil hand toward me. I remembered the pistol in my hand and brought it up in nearly a blind panic, pulling the trigger as many times as I could.
The gun bucked in my hand. I had the skill, borrowed though it was, but I was unused to the kick of the weapon. Still, at least three of the rounds pierced the shadow thing. Not that it did much good. The bullets flew right through it. One shattered the glass of the basement window.
It was through the now broken window that we could hear the sound of approaching sirens. That first gunshot must have been reported. The shadow thing hissed in frustration, looked at the window, then turned to me. “I will be seeing you soon, Savannah.” It promised, running an oily hand down my cheek.
Before I could throw up in disgust, the oil creature melted into darkness, and was gone.
“What’s going on?” Though the confusion fit, the voice wasn’t me. It was Zeke. He looked utterly baffled. “Who the hell are you? What–” Seeing Gerald with the knife in his hand, his eyes widened and he lunged that way. “What did you do?!”
“Gerald!” That was Dr. Kansas Trude, the old man, who looked as shocked as anyone else. “Call 911!” He said to the clearly also confused Dayle before focusing on me. “Do… I know you? Who are you people? What did… what happened?”
A hand caught my arm. I twisted to see Eric there. He gave me a tug. “They don’t know anything. Whatever happened, it was that thing that was possessing the old man. I don’t think any of them were in control of themselves.”
That much was apparent. They were still talking about calling an ambulance, demanding answers, and generally being completely clueless. I took a step back, not wanting to be caught here without any explanation. Yes, officer, the evil oil spirit did all of it. Plus, it would lead to Gesmine and I still wasn’t sure what I should do about that. Or who it would be safe to tell.
While Dayle called 911, I turned with Eric and fled up the stairs. The old man shouted even more demands to know who we were, but neither he nor the others made any move to stop us. I think they were too disoriented by whatever had been done to them.
As we reached the top of the stairs, the police sirens drew closer. I saw my phone sitting on a table next to the stairs, and reached out a hand to grab it just before Eric tugged me through the back door and into a dark yard.
Red and blue lights reflected off of the nearby houses as the cars drew to a stop on the road out front. Meanwhile, Eric and I ran through the backyard, hopped the fence at the back, and kept going.