MY BODY TENSES, and I get the distinct feeling we are in serious trouble. I grab Patty’s arm and drag her behind me. She starts to protest, but I silence her with a look. I need her to be still. I have to make sure that we’re alone, but somehow I don’t think we are. I tilt my head to the right and listen hard. There it is — the tell-tale sound of shuffling footsteps near the back of the house, followed by the smack of flesh on flesh and a groan.
I flash back to what Patty said in the car. Her son was on a big case; it’s not too hard to guess that it’s caught up to him. I wonder what they want from him. Patty stuffs her fist to her mouth to stifle a scream, and I don’t blame her. Her mother’s instinct is to run and protect him, which will probably accomplish nothing more than her suffering the same fate.
“Let me take care of it,” I say quietly but firmly. She gives me an incredulous look. “It’ll be okay. I’ll get him.”
I don’t know where the confident tone comes from, but it works. Her head bobs almost imperceptibly. I take her by the hand and eye a coat closet to our left. I open it and shove her in. Her trembling mouth and watery eyes show just how terrified she is. That haunted look burns into my mind as I go attempt to retrieve her son. I really have no idea what my plan is right now. I’m just a seventeen-year-old girl, not an assassin, but I feel like I can handle this. In fact, it’s like a natural instinct is driving me forward.
As I creep down the hallway, I marvel at how silent my footsteps are. I can hear them, but I doubt that anyone else could. The longer I creep down the hallway, the more I feel my fear evaporate. Instead, I feel a sudden rush of excitement, a need for action. In that moment, I’m aware that something dramatic has changed. I don’t feel like the old Evie anymore. It’s like I’ve shed a skin and something more dangerous is emerging.
I approach a kitchen to my left, and a living room opens on my right. There is more destruction here. Whoever her son is, he sure did put up a fight. Even more alarming are the bullet holes I see as I pass the living room and enter a narrower hallway. There are four doors, two on the right and two on the left. All are closed. I don’t like the idea of sticking my head through different doorways to find my quarry.
My adversaries are obviously armed. What would happen if I was shot? Would I die again? I shut that thought out of my mind. Now isn’t the time, nor do I really want to test the theory. I stop and listen, and hear voices whispering. That strikes me as odd. Why would they be whispering? They think the house is empty. Maybe they are aware that Patty has been staying here and are expecting her back, another victim for their sick games.
Suddenly I am so furious that I can’t control myself anymore. I kick open the door. Every head turns in my direction, and I take in the scene before I attack. That must be Patty’s son, tied to a chair and bleeding. There are three interrogators. One of them has bloody hands from beating his victim. Ethan is barely conscious, but I see that he is aware of me, and just as puzzled by my appearance as the other men are.
I don’t wait — I just move and let instinct take over. I’m in the face of the man with bloody hands so fast that the other two don’t even catch my movements. Lifting him off his feet, I slam him into his co-conspirators. They no longer bother with whispering. Now they are shouting, but none of their words make sense, and I realize that they are speaking an unfamiliar language. Two men lie in a heap in the floor, still conscious. The third man has regained his footing, bringing up a gun and firing at the same time. The bullet hits me in the left shoulder and I feel a stitch of pain but, astonishingly, that’s it.
He stares at me, and I can only imagine what he’s thinking. That bullet should have stopped me, pitched me to the floor screaming in agony, but I barely flinched. I’m wearing a white shirt — granted, it is covered in filth, but that can’t hide the fact that there is no blood. Interesting. I take a step towards the shooter and he bolts out the door.
The other two won’t be so lucky. I approach them as they try to scramble to their feet. They’re having a difficult time because they are so tangled up in each other, and I make it to them before they are able to do anything else. One is drawing another gun, but I rip it away with so much force that I break his wrist. He screams out in pain and I slap him, but check my swing so I don’t break his neck. I crouch to the floor where they have now both stopped struggling, babbling away in what I think is Russian. They are both terrified. The sight of their fear gives me a rush of primal excitement, and that scares me a little. I press a finger to my lips, and they fall silent.
“English?” I ask, taking in their appearances and realizing they are twins. They are big and blond, both with brilliant green eyes. The only difference between the two is that the one on my right has a scar that starts at the base of his nose and crosses to his ear. This is the one who answers me.
“Only very little.” His voice is low, full of gravel and slightly broken. Crazily, I wonder if that is a result of the same incident that caused such massive damage to his face.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, but he doesn’t seem to understand me and just shakes his head.
I let out a frustrated growl. I know I’m not going to get anywhere with him, and I’ll have to wait for Patty’s son to decide what he wants to do. When I turn my head to see if there is anything to secure them with, one of them gets brave. I hear his movement, and out of my peripheral vision I see him lash out with one foot. It’s meant for my face, but I easily catch it with my left hand and twist. The sound of his leg breaking sounds like a gunshot, and he screams so loud that I think my eardrums might burst. Before that happens, he passes out, leaving the room silent. Oops. I didn’t mean to cause that much damage, but I guess I no longer have to worry about him going anywhere. And I can’t pretend that I don’t feel a rush of satisfaction, which sickens me. I don’t want to be the type of person who takes joy in hurting others, even if they deserve it.
The still-conscious brother stares at me in shock for a moment, then starts speaking at top speed. I wish he would stop. Obviously I don’t understand what he is saying, but I get the idea that he is pleading. Again I raise a finger to my lips, and he instantly falls silent. I point to him, then to the floor, and he stares. I do it again, and see the light click on — he knows he is to sit still. He nods enthusiastically. Before I move, I check the bullet wound in my shoulder and watch a fragment of the bullet fall out of the hole as my flesh stitches itself back together. Well, that’s convenient. Scary, disgusting, and inconceivable, but convenient. It’s also too much for blond brother number two — his eyes roll back into his head and he faints. Double convenient.
Luckily, all this has taken place behind Patty’s son. I don’t think he has seen anything, or maybe if he has, he is too scared to speak. It’s then that I notice the slump of his body. He has lost consciousness, so he wouldn’t have noticed anything anyway. Though I’m worried about his condition, I choose to see this as a positive. At least I won’t have to make any crazy explanations right away. As I stand up to free him, I sense movement behind me. I spin with supernatural speed, but if Patty has noticed anything odd, she hides it well. Thankfully, she is only focused on her son, who is still slumped in the chair.
“Ethan? Ethan!” she cries out as she crosses the threshold and makes her way to his chair. She gingerly pushes his sweat-covered hair out of his face, and even in the gloomy room, I can see that his injuries, while serious, aren’t life-threatening. At her touch, he regains consciousness.
“Ma?” he says weakly.
“Yes, baby, I'm here,” she replies, wiping the blood out of his eyes.
I stand there just watching for a minute, not knowing what to do. Finally, I cross the room so silently that both Patty and Ethan jump when I pull apart the ropes with my bare hands. Patty is looking at me strangely, and I realize that I have made a mistake. This is a heavy rope — it should have taken more effort than that to break it. I try to smooth things over by redirecting her attention back to her son.
“How is he?” I ask. Patty moves her eyes from my face back to his.
“He is okay. He might have a concussion, but I think we got here before ... any real damage was done. It doesn’t look like anything’s broken.” She carefully prods his face. He winces, but doesn’t cry out. “Yes, I think we did get very lucky.”
“What do we do now?”
“Call the police and take him to the hospital.”
“No, Ma,” he says and gently pushes away her hand. “I need to call base.”
“Don’t be stupid, Ethan. You need to be looked at,” Patty tells him.
“You said yourself — there probably isn’t any serious damage, and you’re the best nurse I know. If you think I will be okay, then I will be okay.”
“Ethan Percival Hawkins, you listen to me ...”
Ethan smiles a little. “Sorry, Ma. The days when you could middle-name me and get results are over. I need to call base. I need those two taken into our custody, not hauled off by the police.” He nods in the direction of the still unconscious twins. “How did —”
Patty, who isn’t going to give up that easily, cuts in. “Fine, Ethan. If you can stand up and not faint, then I will leave you alone.” She is smirking a little and I can see why. Ethan seems unable to focus on one spot for more than a few seconds. If he can make it up and across the room, I will be astounded.
I’m a little concerned that the twins will come to. I can handle them, but I’m reluctant to reveal what I can do. I feel like there’s a reason I ended up with these people, and if they find out they’re dealing with a walking dead girl, they may run screaming into the night. No, I need to earn their trust before I tell them exactly what happened to me. I realize I am not even sure what happened to me. I’m still so busy concentrating on what story to tell that I’ve missed Ethan get up, but I look up in time to see a satisfied smile spreading across his face.
“See? I'm fine. Now, we need to ...” He turns and faces me for the first time and stops cold.
“Evie? Evie Shepard?”
“WHO … WHAT… HOW did you know my name?” I’m finally able to say, completely caught off guard.
It seems foolish to be surprised, though didn’t Patty make her decision to bring me here instead of to the police only after she heard my name? I’ve got a million questions running through my broken mind, but they keep chasing each other around and around, and I can’t settle on just one.
“Evie, what happened to you?” he asks, which strikes me as funny. He’s the one with blood running down his face, but he’s more concerned about my well-being.
“It’s a long story.” Before I say any more, I notice a large mirror on the wall behind his head, and for the first time since I rose out of the ground I am able to see myself.
My long brown hair is tangled and matted with dirt, and my nails are still broken from clawing my way out of the ground, though they seem to be on the mend. My clothes are torn and disgusting — though, thankfully, I’m still covered up in all the right places. My eyes are what really catch my attention, though. Before, they were dark blue, but now they’re violet. They are beautiful, but completely foreign. I feel as if I’m looking at a picture of myself, but with deliberate mistakes, and I‘m transfixed.
“Ma, I think she’s in shock,” Ethan says to Patty, almost admonishing her. I shake my head and bring myself out of it.
“No, really, I’m okay,” I say softly.
“I think you’re anything but okay. How did you escape?” Ethan presses.
“I knew it,” Patty interjects, giving me a second to wonder about what he said. Escape? Of course — I must have gotten away from someone. I didn’t bury myself. However, hearing it worded that way fills me with dread. Suddenly, I’m not sure I want to hear what he has to say. “You knew what?” Ethan asks Patty.
“I knew who she was. That’s why I brought her here. I knew you weren’t sure of the authorities.”
“Wait — what authorities?” I ask, but no one seems inclined to answer me.
I’m not so inclined to answer Ethan’s question either. It seems to me we are at a standstill. I feel the tension in the room, and suddenly I imagine all of us standing here several days from now, still stubbornly silent. I start to laugh and they both stare at me for a minute, then break into sheepish smiles of their own.
“I think,” I say, “that we might want to get a handle on the twins over there; then it’ll be time for a sit-down explanation from all of us. Ethan, can you handle them, or should I?”
“I can, but that will be another question on my list. How were you able to handle them in the first place?” he asks. I don’t want to let my secret out, but I can’t think of a lie they’ll believe, so I settle for shrugging.
“Why were those guys here? Do you know?” I ask, deflecting his questions and turning the focus back on him.
His hesitation confirms my suspicion that this was more than just a random robbery. Most robbers don’t bother tying you to a chair — they take and then run, or shoot you dead. This has a different feel to me. Something else brought them here.
“Yes, but I need to contact my team and see if they found out ...” He stops there and shrugs, just like I did to him.
“If it’s all right with you, can I take a shower? And do you have any spare clothes?” I ask, glancing between the two of them.
Ethan is probably six foot four, broad shouldered and very solid. Anything of his will swallow my slender, five-eight frame. Patty is my height, but a bit on the heavy side, and at this point I am hoping they at least have a robe that will cover me up. Patty seems to be reading my thoughts.
“I think some of Annika’s clothes will fit you,” she says, looking at her feet.
I see Ethan’s shoulders slump, and at the mention of that name he looks ten years older. I look at Ethan for the first time — I mean, really look at him. Even through all the bruises and blood I can tell he can’t be more than in his early twenties, not that much older than me, with dark brown hair, an olive complexion, and striking blue eyes.
I think back to Patty’s hesitation as to how Annika died, and wonder what really happened. As the heaviness in the room becomes more than I can bear, I blurt out “Whatever you can find is fine with me. Where’s your bathroom?”
Patty beckons me forward. I glance back at Ethan, and then head out of the room with her.
“Down the hall, second door on the left. If you want to go ahead and step in, I will get some clothes and set them on the sink for you,” she says, pointing. I step around her and head toward the door she indicated.
“Thank you,” I say as she disappears into another room.
I take a peek in the shower, and turn the water on to let it warm up. I resist looking at the mirror with the faint hope that when I get out of the shower, the reflection I see will look more like what I remember. It’s hard to describe what I saw in the mirror in the other room, but for a fraction of a second, I didn’t recognize my own face. My features were the same, but there was ... I don’t know ... Something was missing.
I strip out of my filthy clothes as the room slowly fills with steam. I need some time to think on my own. A shower seems like the perfect excuse.
I hear Ethan’s voice coming from the hall. He must be talking to whatever “base” he was referring to. I wonder what that development will bring me. There is so much that I don’t know right now, and I don’t like it. I step into the shower and let the warm water wash away my stress. To my delight, the water feels the same on my skin as it always has, and I close my eyes. Things have been so confusing and complicated that I relish this one simple thing. It’s like a cable has anchored me to the ground, making me feel human. It’s then that I realize that since this has happened, I’ve avoided asking myself a crucial question: What am I?
I run through a few obvious choices. No pointy teeth, no thirst for blood — nope, not a vampire. I feel stupid even considering it. I don’t feel a need to eat brains or feel particularly violent — at least, not at the moment. Probably rules out zombie. I run down a list of every creature I’ve ever read about. Nothing matches, but I have to wonder: If I am here, back from the dead, what else is out there? The thought sends a shiver through me.
So, what am I? An image pops in my head. It’s murky at first, a bit like looking in a muddy pool of water. I can see the shape of the thought, but not the full outline. So I sit down in the shower and close my eyes, relaxing both my body and my mind. The murk is clearing, but I try not to focus too hard on it, knowing I might lose it again if I do. I let my mind flow as it wants to and the image of a book, the one with the interlocking circles, bursts through. It’s important, I know it, but my mind is not ready to relinquish its meaning, and it fades away.
I slam my hands into the shower wall, cracking two tiles. This is so frustrating. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to wander around forever in this confused state, feeling like a monster. But I am not a monster. I am Evie Shepard, daughter of Charles and Beverly, sister of Toby and Lyssa ... Lyssa ... My eyes snap back open. There is something there, my sister, Lyssa. She is in terrible danger. I know this, I feel it, but dammit, I don’t know why. If Ethan knows about me, then surely he must know what has happened to my family. I need to focus on how he knows about me. I think hard about everything that has happened since I met up with these people. Why didn’t Patty take me straight to a hospital? By the look of me, she’d known something dreadful had happened. Ethan ... he knows my name, he knows I’ve escaped. What else does he know? Does he know that I’m supposed to be dead? They didn’t call the authorities, and it seems as though they don’t trust them. Why? Ethan wants to contact “base” — that would indicate some kind of mission. Mission for what? For me and my family? No, that doesn’t make sense. My sister and I were taken. Of that, at least, I am pretty sure. The memory flash of my sister and me being pulled apart seems to support that. Were there others? I close my eyes again and hope that one recovered memory will lead to another, but nothing comes to mind. I raise my hand a second time to strike the wall, and then lower it. I have to remind myself to be patient, and that destroying Ethan’s bathroom will resolve nothing. It’ll come — maybe talking to Ethan and Patty will jog something. It won’t do any good to dwell on it.
There is another possibility to explain how Ethan knows who I am, and that’s the one that has me worried. Could “base” be the kidnappers themselves? Is that the real reason why they haven’t taken me to the authorities? At this point, I can’t rule anything out, yet it seems the most unlikely. Who were those men, and why were they beating him to death?
While I’m still trying to figure out what is happening here, I hear the door open and I tense, waiting to see if they’ll attack me while I’m vulnerable. However, I only hear a rustle and the sound of the door closing again. I take a chance and peek out from behind the curtain. There, sitting on the sink, is a change of clothes and a towel. If they were out to hurt me, they wouldn’t be so considerate, right? Feeling stupid, I let out a sigh and turn off the water. Grabbing the towel to dry myself off, my fingers brush against the fabric of the shirt that has been left for me. A strange but funny thought crosses my mind: how fitting that they’re giving me a dead woman’s clothes. I laugh bitterly, then grip the counter as a wave of anger rushes through my body.
Suddenly I feel the need to hurt someone, a burning need to strike out. How I’d love to get my hands on the people who have harmed me and my family. Anger is turning to rage, and the grip I have on the counter becomes so tight that a piece of it comes off in my hand. I need to control myself, but I just can’t seem to. I take the piece of counter in my hand and crush it to dust. I let the dust slip from my hands onto the floor. I reluctantly look up into the mirror and do not like the hatred I see burning in my eyes.
I reach out to turn on the faucet in the sink to rinse the dust from my hands. Suddenly a thin line of electricity jumps between my fingers and the metal handle. I jerk my hand back and stare. The thin blue line disappears, so I reach again, and the line reappears. Well, that’s new. I pull my hand back a second time, but this time the line remains, except it is no longer attached to the metal. Thin blue lines of electricity are now flowing between my fingers, making my hand appear webbed. I close my fist and the current is broken. I open my hand again, and nothing. Reach for the tap, nothing. Add one more mystery to the growing list of things I don’t yet understand. I dry off quickly and dress just as fast, eager to get at least some answers to my new questions.
BY THE TIME I make it to the kitchen, they are waiting for me, perched on chairs around the kitchen table. An awkward silence hangs over the room like fog.
“Shouldn’t we be leaving?” I ask.
“I think we will be okay here for tonight,” Ethan replies.
“What about those thugs in the back?”
“I secured and sedated them. They aren’t going anywhere.” He winces and shifts in his chair. The bruising and swelling in his face are thrown into sharper relief in the glare of the lights. He catches my stare, and quickly picks up a bag of ice sitting on the table and holds it to his face. I come around to the other side of the table and sit in the only remaining chair.
“One of them got away. Shouldn’t we be worried that they are going to come back with reinforcements?” I ask, pressing the point.
“No. They were here to deliver a warning. They’ve done that,” he says, pointing to his face. “They won’t risk coming back now that they have revealed themselves.”
I don’t argue, but I strongly disagree with him. I don’t think they really meant to leave him alive. I also don’t think that I’ll be able to convince him to get moving.
“So what exactly did they want to scare you away from?” I ask, but he just looks away. Neither of them seems to be in the mood for confession, so I guess it’s up to me to get the ball rolling.
“One of us should probably start talking.” When the only response I receive is silence, I give a strained smile and look from one to the other. Yeah, that’s what I thought. “Okay, guess it’s going to be me. Who are you, and how do you know who I am?”
Ethan shifts in his chair again. A look of discomfort crosses his face; a look that I somehow don’t think has anything to do with his physical injuries.
“My name is Ethan Hawkins, and I work for an independent recovery agency.”
I mull that over for a minute. “What exactly does that mean?”
“One of the victims of the New Orleans attack happens to have a very rich uncle. As yet, the authorities have been unable to locate her. The family contacted me because there was some indication that the people responsible had moved some of the victims here, and I have a lot of experience in capture and recovery.” His words trail off.
“What do you mean the New Orleans attack?”
“You don’t know?” Ethan blanches.
“She’s telling the truth, Ethan. When I picked her up, she didn’t know where she was,” Patty interjects, coming to my rescue.
“Evie,” Ethan begins hesitantly, “you and your family were the victims of a human trafficking ring. The hotel where you were staying was raided, and several people were taken, including you and your sister.” He pauses and places one of his warm hands over mine. “I’m so sorry.”
I feel my body sag as his words weigh on me. He isn’t saying anything that I have not already felt was true, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I see compassion in his eyes, but now, I understand why he looked so uncomfortable. He isn’t here to save my family — he has his own priorities.
Priorities. That word bounces around my head until it grows into a memory fragment. I can feel old leather on my palms and the book with interlocking circles resting in my hands. I pull my hand away as a memory rushes back to me.
I’m standing on a street, casually exploring New Orleans, when I discover a fascinating old bookshop. I push open the heavy wooden doors and am greeted by both a tinkling bell and a friendly greeting from a store clerk. The store is small and overflowing with books. About a dozen rows of bookshelves are packed in tightly together. I let my fingers stray across the binders while I read the spines. Suddenly, I hear a loud thump behind me, and turn around, startled.
At first I don’t see anything, or anyone; but then I happen to look down, and on the floor I come across a book that is so old the pages seem to have been written on parchment. Still looking around, I pick up the book and start flipping through it.
I come across several languages, but can read none of it. Just as I am about to give up, I find one section in English. It’s very old, written in Shakespearean style, and more interestingly, it is handwritten. It takes some deciphering, but I read the story and am riveted. It’s only a few pages long, but it's unfamiliar and intriguing. I settle myself on the floor of the shop and begin to pore over the book. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The pages are of all different textures: paper, parchment, papyrus ... and some others I can’t identify. A hundred or so pages into the book, I find another English section, and again, it looks handwritten.
It’s written in first person — something I have never encountered in mythology before — by a man who was murdered and came back for vengeance with supernatural powers. A man just like me.
My legs tremble, but I clench my teeth to keep focused. I’ll have time to reflect on what I have just discovered, but now I need to concentrate on what Ethan is telling me. Maybe what he knows will continue to unlock more memories.
Ethan sees my reaction and, by the way he hurries on, probably assumes I’m upset that my family isn’t who he has set out to save. Which is partially true.
“We have been given files on all the people who are unaccounted for. If we saw any signs of them, then of course we were to contact the authorities immediately.” Something about this statement doesn’t ring true, but my new lie-detecting sense is silent too.
“You said earlier that you didn’t want to contact the authorities, when you recognized me. If that’s what you’re supposed to do, why not do it?”
He twists in his seat and gives me a calculating look, as if he is making up his mind about something. “Some of the evidence indicates that the authorities here, and some in New Orleans, may be compromised. In my brief interactions with them ... well, let’s just say that I haven’t exactly been welcomed with open arms.” He gestures over his shoulder. “The twins told me there were crooked cops involved.”
“They didn’t speak English. Where are they from?”
“They were speaking Russian, and they made reference to being in a Russian mafia of sorts. That makes sense. Whoever is behind these kidnappings must have a lot of power to pull off what they did.” He stops there and grimaces as if his words have left a bad taste in his mouth. I know he has more to say, and his hesitation makes me afraid, because whatever is coming is going to be horrible.
“Evie, we think that what happened to you and your family is ongoing — a huge human trafficking ring. The family who hired me is obviously not satisfied with the answers they are getting, either. Maybe you saw the girl I’m looking for. Her name is Chelsea ...”
As soon as the name is out of his mouth, I double over, clutching the table as another memory crashes into my mind.