Somewhere in Northern France; June 30th, 2012
Hours went by seeing Janie against the wall, staring across the room with her knees pulled to her chest. Her wet hair hung in her face, soaking through the jacket wrapped around her bony shoulders. She didn’t know why she was still alive, having given up the photo, and, frankly, she didn’t care. The memory of Taran’s face in the light was fresh in her mind, lit with a determination to get her away from hell.
Now that she was alone, she pictured him in the dark. It was easy to pretend he’d never left when she could see nothing beyond her own eyelids. She took to mumbling to herself, knowing there would be no answer. She didn’t care.
“I can’t wait to get out of here,” she whispered, rocking back and forth the way he’d done with her. “It’ll only be a few more hours before he comes back with help. He’ll come back. He promised.”
The pain radiating through her hip had intensified since she’d last been dunked in the tub, this time entirely. She didn’t know what floated in the water around her when she was submerged, but, whatever it was, it was in her gaping wound now. The newest man to deal with her hadn’t asked questions, merely shoved her to the concrete bottom until she inhaled water, then wrenched her to the surface to expel it, forcing vomit into the water as well. The water had turned immediately red around her when she was forced to sit up, disturbing the cloth around her hip and tearing her wound open anew. Now, she was without it and blood trickled from her skin, uninterrupted.
She’d refused to let herself succumb to sleep, waiting desperately for the feverish steps and fervent commands of police on the other side of the door to take her home. She didn’t dare close her eyes, for fear she would miss the light filtering in when they threw the steel door open. So far, nothing of the sort had happened, and she was beginning to feel the effects of her fatigue and blood loss. She’d snapped awake so many times in the last few—minutes? Hours? She couldn’t tell—she’d lost count. The silence was beginning to scream in her ears, pounding behind her eyes. “I have to stay awake,” she growled, rubbing viciously at her face.
Running out of ideas, Janie kicked around the tray her most recent meal had come on, watching the plastic skitter across the floor, crashing into the wall. There wasn’t a morsel of the slop left on it when she did, since she’d licked the tray clean hours ago. She felt better than any other day in here that she could remember, despite her session in the tub earlier that day. The crippling pain in her stomach had been reduced to a dull ache, aside from the injury she had sustained from the last man’s knife, and excitement hummed through her chest. Taran was coming back. Any minute now…
She hated to admit it, even to herself, but she’d expected help to arrive hours ago. She knew he must have gotten lost, and she comforted herself with the knowledge that, for all she knew, he could’ve only been gone an hour. A minute felt like an eternity in here as it was and she’d stopped counting after one thousand, two hundred, and thirty six. There was also the undeniable chance that the guards could’ve found him. Her heart raced, her mind finally entertaining the thought that help might not have been coming after all.
“He’s coming back,” she chanted, returning to rocking back and forth. “He’s coming back.”
The echo of voices in the hall snapped Janie from sleep before she realized that her eyes had closed. She couldn’t stand but she threw herself on her stomach, scraping her bulbous shin against the floor as she crawled toward the door. She stared up into the abyss where she knew the door would be, waiting for the police to crash through it and whisk her away to a place with food and people who loved her. When the steel portal swung open, her jaw dropped, a wail of joy gathering in her throat.
Two indistinct forms fell into the room, one crashing to their knees on the floor and the other falling in a similar manner onto Janie’s back. Curling into herself, she rolled away from the new arrivals, coughing away the tightness in her chest. The door swung shut quickly, screeching violently as it locked. Janie visibly deflated, her skeletal figure collapsing in on itself while she fought off the disappointment threatening to drown her. When she’d sufficiently gathered herself, she straightened up and searched the darkness for the people wiggling on the floor. Muffled screams broke the calm.
Janie fumbled for something to hold onto so she could help them, but there was nothing, as usual. Her hand met the rough exterior of a potato sack and the person within shook harder, trying to free himself from his bounds. Janie tore the sack from his head, throwing it against the wall. “Shh, shh, it’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you,” she promised, feeling along his face for the tape covering his mouth. “Okay, I lied. This is gonna hurt a little.” She got a good grip under the corner and tore it from his mouse with a riiiiiip. A man’s voice cried out from the sting.
“Who are you?” he rambled. “Where are we? What do you want?”
Janie felt along the floor as she crawled to find the other captive and worked at freeing her in the same way. “I didn’t bring you here. I was kidnapped.” The girl shrieked when the tape came off.
“Hayden!” he bellowed. “You okay, baby?”
“I’m fine,” she sniffled. “My arms are tied.” Janie felt around for a rope, but all she found was a plastic tie around the girl’s wrists.
“I can’t get it off, we’d need scissors,” she apologized, carefully placing herself back on the floor. “My name’s Janie.”
“I’m Hayden,” the girl mumbled, flopping onto her back.
“Scottie,” the man grunted, moving himself into a sitting position. “Where are we?”
Janie hissed as she stretched her leg out, the way Taran had told her, to keep the rebroken bone straight. “I have no idea. They don’t say anything about the outside in here. How did you guys get here? Was it Natalia?”
“You know Natalia?” they demanded in unison.
Janie shivered against the memories. “More than I’d like to.”
“You know about Mainyu, then?” Hayden pleaded. “Are you a…what’d he call it…a Spiritii, too?”
She just stared in the direction the other girl’s voice had come from. “A what?”
“How many others has she got here?” Scottie snapped, trying uselessly to make out Janie’s face as he changed the subject.
Janie frowned, forced to remember once again. “There was one more—”
“What happened?” Hayden interjected, thinking the worst. “Did she…?”
She refused to allow herself to think that that had been Taran’s fate, but the mere insinuation had her wrapping her arms around herself, feeling herself begin to fall to pieces. She wanted someone to hold her like Taran had done while he was here, a luxury she’d taken for granted when he was still beside her. Holding herself could only fill the void for so long.
“No, he got away,” she choked out. “I don’t know when, it might have been today, maybe yesterday. We tried to get away and he got out. I got caught.”
“What happened?” Hayden inquired.
“They dragged me back in by my hair when they found me. I couldn’t fight them, my leg’s broken, among other things,” Janie explained. “He’ll be back, though. He promised he’d get me to a hospital.”
“What did they do to you?” Scottie wondered aloud.
The face of her near-rapist flashed behind her eyelids, forcing tears up to wash it away. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“How long have you been here?”
Janie swallowed her sadness. “Six months.”
“Jesus!” Hayden gasped. “Why?”
“They kept me for something that was recently resolved. I think they’re going to kill me soon,” Janie deadpanned. “I don’t know why they’ve kept me so long.”
They said nothing for a long time. “We have to get out of here,” Scottie finally said, working tirelessly to pull his bound arms under his legs.
“There’s no way you’ll get out,” Janie said. “After Taran got out, they’ll be prepared for it.”
“What do you suppose we do about it, then?” he roared, finally giving up on his bindings.
Janie scowled into the blackness, wishing she could make him feel how angry he was making her. “Why don’t you tell me about how you got here, first?”
“How do I know we can trust—” Scottie began.
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Hayden explained, the edge in her voice making it clear she didn’t appreciate the way her boyfriend was acting.
“Try me,” she challenged.
Hayden bit her lip, wishing she could drop it so they could think of a way back to Alex, Claire, and the others. “I…I really can’t tell you, Janie. I don’t know how.”
“We need to focus on getting out. If that…monster’s got us here, it can’t be for anything good,” Scottie said. Janie was far from disagreeing, knowing exactly how monstrous Natalia could be.
“Your best bet would probably be to find out why they want you here. They wouldn’t have you here if they didn’t have something to gain,” Janie clarified. “Do you have any idea what it could be?”
The new arrivals shared a look, knowing they could only be there as bait…or worse.
“What’s the matter?” Janie asked when they said nothing.
Hayden choked when she tried to speak. “What do they do to you here?”
“I told you, I don’t…” Janie explained, before halting. She didn’t want to scare them, but she wanted to prepare them all the same for what was to come. “They have this tub, and they try to drown me in it constantly. My leg is broken, and I’m bleeding from my hip from a stab wound. And, above all that, I’m starving to death. How I’ve survived this long is nothing short of a miracle.”
Hayden paled, but Scottie was determined to get out at whatever the cost. “And that other guy—”
Scottie bit the inside of his mouth so he wouldn’t lash out. He sighed loudly. “Taran, is getting help?”
“Yes,” Janie nodded fervently.
“And you’re sure he’s coming back?” he whispered.
“I know he’s coming back! He promised.”
The door flew open without warning, slamming against the wall with a force that shook the very floor beneath them.
Janie fell back to the floor and froze, hoping it was the police but knowing it was the person who would undoubtedly deliver her inevitable end. When she raised her eyes, she found a group of them standing just over the threshold, led by the woman she hadn’t seen in weeks.
“Ms. Campbell!” Natalia greeted cheerily in her cold, thick accent. “I hope you’ve made our newest guests feel welcome.” Approaching them with slow steps, Natalia stooped to Janie’s level, stepping on Janie’s bad leg as she did. Janie shrieked, praying she would eventually catch a break. “I heard you became very well acquainted with my friend Taran.”
Janie said nothing until Natalia twisted on the ball of her foot, turning the raw flesh of her leg. “Yes! Yes, I was.”
“It’s a shame he left you here. Is it not?” she sneered with a cruel smile.
Janie’s face contorted with rage, realizing exactly was she trying to do. “He’s coming back for me. Don’t worry about that, Natalia.”
She laughed. “I see you’ve been talking about me. I always knew Taran was secretly in love with me.”
Janie said nothing.
“Well, little one,” she continued. “We’re going to send a message to your Taran,” she raised her voice. “A message to all of your little friends. I want them to know exactly where to find you.”
Janie watched helplessly as the men dragged Hayden and Scottie into the light before she was grabbed by the throat and pulled along behind them.