Page 16

The pain kept him there.

The pain tied him down as it shot through every nerve in every limb.

He tried to spit out the strap but he couldn’t open his mouth. His jaw was locked.

The dial went up.

Every time Victor thought the dial couldn’t go any further, the pain couldn’t get any worse, and then it did and it did and it did, and Victor could hear himself screaming even though the strap was still between his teeth and he could feel every nerve in his body breaking and he wanted it to stop. He wanted it to stop.

He begged Angie but the words were cut short by the strap and the dial turning up again and the sound in the air like cracking ice and shredding paper and static.

The darkness blinked around him and he wanted it because it meant the pain would stop but he didn’t want to die and he was afraid that the darkness was death and so he pulled violently back from it.

He felt himself crying.

The dial went up.

His hands ached where they gripped the table bars, cramped in place.

The dial went up.

He wished for the first time in his life that he believed in God.

The dial went up.

He felt his heart skip a beat, felt it grind and then double.

The dial went up.

He heard a machine warn, then alarm.

The dial went up.

And everything stopped.




Sydney watched the lines in Victor’s face deepen. He must be dreaming.

It was late. The night beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass was dark—or as dark as it could be, in a city like this—and she stood and stretched, and was about to go back to bed when she saw the piece of paper, and everything in her went cold.

The newspaper article sat open beside Victor on the couch. The heavy bars of black on the page were the first thing that caught her attention, but the photo beneath was what held it. Sydney’s chest tightened, sudden and sharp, and she couldn’t breathe. It felt like she was drowning, again—Serena calling from the patio, a picnic basket hooked on the elbow of her winter coat, telling Syd to hurry up, or the ice would be all melted, which it was, underneath that brittle shell of frost and snow—but when she squeezed her eyes shut, it wasn’t the half-frozen water of the lake that folded over her, but the memory of the field a year later, the stretch of frozen grass and the body and her sister’s encouragement and then the sound of the gunshot, echoing in her ears.

Two different days, two different deaths, overlapping, swirling together. She blinked both memories away, but the photo was still there, staring up at her, and she couldn’t tear her gaze away, and before she knew what she was doing, her hand was reaching out, stretching past Victor, toward the paper and the smiling man on its front.

It all happened fast.

Sydney’s fingers curled around the newspaper page but as she lifted it, her forearm grazed Victor’s knee and before she could shift her weight or pull back he shot forward, eyes open but empty, hand vising around Sydney’s small wrist. Without warning, pain tore up her arm and through her small body, crashing over her in a wave. It was worse than drowning, worse than being shot, worse than anything she had ever felt. It was like every one of her nerves was shattering, and Sydney did the only thing she could.

She screamed.




The pain had followed him up again, and Victor came to, screaming.

Angie was fumbling with his hands, trying to coax them free of the bars. He shot forward, clutching his head. Why was the electricity still running? The pain was a wave, a wall, wracking his muscles, his heart. His skin was tearing with it, and Angie was talking but Victor couldn’t hear anything through the agony. He curled in on himself and stifled another scream.

Why wouldn’t the pain stop? WHY WOULDN’T IT STOP?

And then, as sudden as a flipped switch, the pain was gone, and Victor was left feeling... nothing. The machines were off, the lights sprinkled across their fronts all dead. Angie was still talking, her hands running over skin, unbuckling the ankle straps, but Victor didn’t hear her as he stared down at his hands and wondered at the sudden hollowness, as if the electricity had gutted his nerves and left only shells.


Where did it go? he wondered. Will it come back?

In the sudden absence of pain, he found himself trying to remember how it felt, to drum up the sensation, a shadow of it, and as he did the switch clicked again, and the energy was there, crackling like static through the room. He heard the crinkle of the air, and then he heard a scream. He wondered for an instant if it was coming from him, but the pain was beyond Victor now, outside of him, humming over his skin without touching it.

He felt slow, dazed, as he tried to process the situation. Nothing hurt, so who was screaming? And then the body crumpled to the lab floor beside his table, and the space between his thoughts collapsed, and he snapped back to his senses.

Angie. No. He jumped down from the table to find her writhing on the floor, still screaming in pain, and he thought stop! but the electrical buzzing in the room continued to grow around him. Stop. She clutched her chest.

Victor tried to help her up but Angie cried out even louder when he touched her and he stumbled back, confusion and panic pouring through him. The buzzing, he thought. He had to turn it down. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine it as a dial, tried to imagine turning some invisible device. He tried to feel calm. Numb. He was surprised by how easily it came to him in the midst of chaos, the calm. And then he realized how horribly quiet the room had gone. Victor opened his eyes, and saw Angie sprawled on the floor, head back, eyes open, red hair a cloud around her face. The humming in the air had faded to a tingle, and then to nothing, but it was still too late.

Angie Knight was dead.




The hotel room was pain and noise and chaos.

Victor came to, dazed, trapped between the school lab and the hotel room, Angie’s scream in his head and Sydney’s in his ears. Sydney? But the girl was nowhere to be seen, and he was being pinned back against the couch by Mitch, whose whole body was shaking visibly from the effort, but unbudging as the room hummed around them.

“Turn it off,” growled Mitch under his breath, and Victor woke fully. His eyes narrowed, the humming died, and everything in Mitch slackened, all signs of pain gone. He let go of Victor’s shoulders, and slumped back onto a chair.

Victor took a low, steadying breath, and ran his hand slowly over his face and through his hair, before his attention settled on Mitch.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Mitch looked tired, unamused, but safe. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to intervene. Victor knew that when he had bad dreams, other people always suffered.

“I’m swell,” Mitch said, “but not too sure about her.” He pointed to a nearby shape in too large sweats, and Victor’s gaze swiveled to Sydney, who sat on the floor, dazed. He’d shut down their nerves the moment he realized what was happening, or at least dulled them as much as he was safely able, so he knew she was physically all right. But she did look shaken. A pang of guilt, something foreign after a decade in jail, nudged his ribs.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. He reached out to help her up, but thought better. Instead he stood, and made his way toward the hall bathroom.

“Mitch,” he called back. “See she gets to bed.”

And with that he closed the door behind him.




Victor didn’t revive Angie. He didn’t try. He knew he should, or should want to, but the last thing he needed was more evidence of himself at the crime scene. He swallowed hard, cringing both at his ability to be so rational at a moment like this, and at the thought of the term. Crime. Scene. Besides, he could feel that she was dead. No charge. No energy.

So he did the only thing he could think to do. He called Eli.

“Where the hell are you, Vale?” A car door slammed in the background. “You think this shit is funny—”

“Angie’s dead.”

Victor hadn’t been sure whether or not he would say that, but the words had formed and spilled out before he could catch them. He’d expected them to hurt his throat, to lodge in his chest, but they flowed out unrestricted. He knew he should be panicking, but he felt numb, and the numbness made him calm. Was it shock, he wondered, this steadiness that came to him now, that had been so easy to summon with Angie dying at his feet? Or was it something else? He listened to the silence on the other end of the phone until Eli broke it.

“How?” growled Eli.

“It was an accident,” said Victor, maneuvering his cell so he could pull his shirt back on. He’d had to step around Angie’s body to reach it. He didn’t look at her.

“What did you do?”

“She was helping me with a test. I had an idea and it worked and—”

“What do you mean it worked?” Eli’s tone went cold.

“I mean... I mean it worked this time.” He let it sink in. Eli clearly understood, because he stayed quiet. He was listening. Victor had his attention, and he liked that. But he was surprised that Eli seemed more interested in his experiment than in Angie. Angie, who had always kept his monsters back. Angie, who was always getting in the way. No, she had been more than a distraction to both of them, hadn’t she? Victor looked down at the body then, expecting to feel some shade of the guilt that had washed over him when he’d lied to her before, but there was nothing. He wondered if Eli had felt this strange detachment, too, when he woke up on the bathroom floor. Like everything was real, but nothing mattered.

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