There was someone in my room.
I sensed them just as I turned the lights off. This was the nightmare every girl had at some point in her life. It was here. It was happening to me, not to someone else. Me. Coming back from the bathroom, going to my bedroom, their shadow caught the corner of my eye.
Hairs on the back of my neck stood up. A chill went down my spine.
A split second. Not even. That’s how long I had to compute what was about to happen before a hand grabbed my arm. Another slammed over my mouth.
He moved fast, backing me into the wall. He was tall, a couple inches on me, and strong. That chill just doubled, and he bent his head low, whispering into my ear, “In two minutes, men will break into your home and take you hostage.”
My lungs stopped working.
This didn’t happen to people like me. I was no one special. Okay, that wasn’t altogether true. The only special thing about me was a lame nickname I got in elementary school, but that was years ago. I was Bailey Hayes, twenty-two and going to start graduate school in three months. My mother raised me on her own, working doubles at the local hospital. We had a thousand-square-foot house, three bedrooms, a basement, and a sad backyard with a half-built tree house. Midwest born and raised. My mom and I were barely keeping our heads above water. She was a nurse. I was a brainiac. That was it, for real. That was the only “special” thing about me. Brainiac Bailey. A lame nickname and nothing else.
A whimper came out.
He only pressed harder. “Shh!”
I was going to die. Not him. Me!
“Stop!” He pushed me against the wall even harder. My eyes shifted to my free hand. I could ram my finger in his eyeballs, but as if reading my thoughts, he grabbed the hand. Pulling back, he had both my hands in one of his and he pinned my arms above my head. I was paralyzed, unable to fight back.
“Listen to me!” He was growling, yelling, and whispering all at the same time. He readjusted for a tighter grip. “If you want to get out of this alive, stop fighting and pay attention. I will not let them hurt you. Got it? But if you squeal on me, we’re both dead. Nod your head. Let me know you’re following.”
I nodded, just briefly.
His voice went quiet again. “I was sent to detain you. Arcane is waiting for me to bring you out. When I don’t, they will break in here. They’ll ask what took me so long—” His hand moved like lightning again, and he ripped the front of my shirt open.
His eyes never left mine. “Got it? They’re going to think I raped you, and you’ll cry.”
I nodded again.
Not a problem. I let another one loose, but it was muffled by his hand.
“And you will go limp when they try to drag you out of here. Limp. Your body is going to become your weapon. You have no chance of surviving if you go with them. You’ll be on their territory then. Keep them here. Force them to make their stand here. Got it? Your house. Your territory. Your only shot of living.”
My only shot.
Words that shouldn’t be in my head, but were.
I nodded again. “Go limp. Body is my weapon.” It was stamped there forever.
Then—he was gone.
I stepped back from the wall. The room was empty.
I glanced to my window. The thought of crawling out and running flared in my head, but just as I thought it—
They kicked the door in, and it seemed like the entire house shook.
I should run for the window, but that guy’s voice was in my head. He was supposed to have detained me, raped me.
Feet stampeded up the stairs, and below me.
I had one second.
They were checking the house—where had that guy gone?
The window. It beckoned me. And screw it, I went for it.
I got one step before he was back. He grabbed my arm roughly, and called out, “I got her, boss.”
After that, everything blurred.
Time skipped for me.
* * *
Go limp. Drag me out. Body is my weapon.
* * *
“This is her?” A boot kicked me in the side.
I tasted blood.
* * *
“Thought she was rich. Her daddy hasn’t been supporting her or something? The whole thing depends on the dad.”
My dad? I didn’t have a dad …
* * *
“You cleared the upstairs, right, Chase?”
Chase. Chase was the guy who showed up first. Chase was my maybe ally.
“He better have, or was the two pumps not long enough?”
A full belly laugh came from the boots guy.
“Shut up, Rafe. Clemin. Both of you.” Chase’s voice was strained.
* * *
I was being hoisted up in the air.
My one shot. My one chance. My neighbor.
A bloodcurdling scream ripped from my throat.
“Aahhh!” Breathe. “He-e-elp me!”
Please, Mrs. Jones. Please hear me.
Chase dropped me back to the ground, and instead of a hand, I saw a boot lift up—
The cops were coming.
I wasn’t being taken to a police station.
I was told that I was fine at the hospital. But after being told I was also in shock, after being told all the big words that I knew the definitions for, like dissociation, minimization, and deflection—I could only focus on one thing now. After leaving the hospital, I was not going to the police station. I knew the maps, the geography, and that’s where I should’ve gone.
Right? But no. The hospital was behind us where the station was too.
We were heading out of Chicago, and maybe another half hour or so from the small town where my mom and I lived.
Wait. Second thought—where we used to live?
What would my mom do now? Could Chrissy Hayes remain in that house after I was just attacked, almost taken hostage? I called my mother by all kinds of names—Chrissy Hayes, Chrissy, or Mom. Or, well, a whole other kind of names too, because to say she’s a character is putting it mildly. And we have an interesting relationship to say the least.
I might be deflecting here.
Numb. I was numb. I should be pissing my pants, but instead I’m ruminating over how I refer to my mother.