“EVIE, WHAT ARE WE going to do?” Lyssa whispers to me.
“Just keep your head down and do what they say. We’ll be okay,” I lie.
We are being led in a long slow line, but have stopped for a minute. Soon someone shouts at us to move, and Lyssa begins shuffling forward. Her hands have been tied in front of her with a zip tie; I can see the plastic digging into her skin. There are others here, but none of them speak to us. It’s been forbidden.
This is the third time we’ve been moved, and the first time they haven’t bothered blindfolding us. Before we started walking through these woods, we were pulled from a dank basement where we had been all crushed together. Now we’re marching toward God knows what fate.
Ahead of us, people are being ushered into two lines. So far, my refusal to be separated from Lyssa has been successful; I go where they pull her, and so far, no one has objected. Now, armed men are shoving people either to the left or right. To the left is a truck where people are being loaded into the back; to the right, they are being ushered into a tight circle surrounded by the men with guns. As we trudge towards the front, a man with a pocked face stops me. He takes my face into his hands and turns it from side to side, as if he is considering something. Then he shoves me to the left as the others pull Lyssa to the right.
“No!” I scream, but they continue to drag her off.
Without considering the consequences, I smash my cuffed hands into the side of the guard’s head, then start to run toward my sister. Digging my feet into the ground, I gain speed, but still only make it a few feet before I’m hit from behind. I don’t have time to brace myself, so I fall face first into the ground, splitting my lips and cutting my forehead. The guard who tackled me digs his shoulder into my back. Getting my hands under me, I push up. He presses me down with all of his weight and I collapse back to the ground. Barely able to breathe, bleeding from the mouth and forehead, I consider giving up.
Really, what chance do I have of protecting my sister? A sense of helplessness creeps into me, weighing me down more than the man on top of me. Tears start to burn my eyes, turning that helpless feeling into anger, which soon becomes a burning rage. I will not lose her without a fight. I go limp, hoping the guard will see this as a sign of surrender.
Sure enough, he lifts his weight off me. I twist onto my back, and claw at his face. He screams as my nails leave tracks down his skin. I buck and kick with all my might, eventually freeing myself. I look up at Lyssa, who is screaming my name. Just as I make a move for her, the butt of a gun slams into the side of my head and I see no more.
When I wake up, Lyssa is nowhere to be seen. I’m alone on the floor of a concrete cell. Sliding my knees underneath me, I push up off the floor. My ears are ringing and I feel weak, but I grab the bars in front of me and start screaming until someone comes. As soon as my cell door opens, I charge the guard, take him by surprise, and knock him down. My heart is pounding with every step I take, and I race down the first corridor I see. I pass several cells identical to mine, but still do not find Lyssa.
“Lyssa! Lyssa, answer me!” I shout, refusing to believe she’s gone.
“Evie! I’m here!” she answers, reaching her hands out to me.
I skid to a stop as I almost pass her cell. Relief pours through me as I reach for her hands. As soon as our fingers touch, rough hands pull me away, and then slam me into the bars. A boot connects with my side, knocking me to the ground. I barely have time to register the pain when the blows start coming. They come so hard and fast that they blur together, and I become blinded by pain. My sister’s voice, screaming for him to stop, begging for my life, starts to fade away. Just when I think I’m about to die, the punishment stops.
“Stop. Throw them in together. What do we care?” comes a hard voice. The cell door opens, and I’m tossed in.
Over the next few days, Lyssa takes care of my bruised and battered body. It was worth every punch to be with her again.
That was the last real interaction we have with the guards — at least that I can remember now. Our captors don’t answer our questions, nor do they respond to us at all. They simply deliver our food and ignore our shouting at them. Some guards are worse than others. I see some guards leering at us in ways that cause me to cringe. Some smack the bars of cells and make lewd comments. Some speak in a language I don’t understand. The worst is when they torment the blonde.
One look at her and you could tell that she had come from an upper-class home. In fact, for the first few days she was here, she kept demanding to know what was going on, saying “Don’t you know who I am?” When one of the guards finally got tired of hearing her talk, he backhanded her hard enough to knock her off her feet. They had reduced her to just a number, like the rest of us. It didn’t sit well with her, and in a very short time, it broke her completely.
Now she occupies the cell across from us, and as the days drag by she becomes very quiet and starts jumping at the slightest sounds. If anyone tries to touch her, it sends her off into a screaming fit that ultimately leads to her being hit again. It is an ugly cycle. Finally she seems to go into a world of her own, unresponsive to anyone. I hate sitting helplessly by and watching it happen. The worst offender is the man who nearly beat me to death — he seems to take an especially perverse pleasure in terrorizing her.
We try to talk to her or reassure her in any way we can, but are mostly unsuccessful. One thing that calms her is a simple four-line verse of a song. Lyssa sometimes joins in and sings with her sweet, soft voice. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. When it does, she stops screaming and retreats into her own inner world, where she curls up in a ball and simply repeats her name, Chelsea Wilder, or the song. She becomes sensitive to all sounds, reacting bizarrely to anything that isn’t a human voice. Sometimes she screams, other times she cries, and once she went completely mad and started tearing out her hair. Some of the meaner guards like to slam the metal trays against the bars or, if she is close enough to reach, touch her just to see what she would do next.
It hurts me to see it, but it crushes Lyssa. One day she can’t take it anymore.
“Stop it! Just stop! Can’t you leave her alone?” she shouts, hurling vile names at them, names that I didn’t even know she knew. She is standing with her hands curled around the bars when the guard slams his weapon onto them, breaking two of her fingers. Lyssa cries out in pain and cradles her hand to her chest. I pull her back, shouting my own expletives at the guard as he walks away. From then on, whenever the torment begins, I pull Lyssa onto my lap and cover her ears. That poor blonde, who was surely insane by now … she’s the one Ethan was looking for.
“Chelsea Wilder,” I say out loud, and Ethan freezes in his seat.
“Yes! Was she with you? Where is she now? Is she still alive?” he asks so quickly that his words blend together. I’m still locked in the memory of her and don’t respond to him right away. I try desperately to hang on to it. Though it is tearing me to pieces, maybe it will unlock others. The memory comes in small bursts; a piece here, a piece there. Something dawns on me. I remember Lyssa, but what about the rest of my family? Ethan takes my face into his hands. “Evie, do you know what happened to her?”
I pull back from him and close my eyes. The memory is already starting to fade. “Yes and no. I was with her ...” I tell them everything I’d just remembered, but I can’t recall any more. It’ll come back to me, I know it will. But as painful as those memories are, I know that the worst is still to come.
Ethan starts to pace the room. “So, you were in cells?”
“Yes. The place we were in seemed like it had been a prison. There were several cells, more than one level. I remember seeing stairs … very old.” The memory is there, I just can’t seem to bring it to all the way to the surface. That doesn’t stop Ethan from hammering me with questions. How many people were there? How many guards? On and on, until finally:
“Evie, how did you escape?”
My breath catches in my throat, and my mind goes into overdrive. I knew this question was coming, but I was unprepared for the suspicion in his voice. I know by looking at his face that he thinks I left my sister behind. Suddenly I am angry beyond reason or rationality, and in my clenched fist I feel sparks of electricity spread across my fingers. Luckily, Patty, who has been listening quietly, steps in and gives him a reproachful look.
“Ethan, this girl has been through an awful ordeal. Maybe we should let her rest. We can continue this conversation in the morning.”
Ethan doesn’t seem to agree, and before he can speak, I decide to put him in his place.
“Considering that I woke up in the ground, I’m going to assume they thought I was dead, and buried me. That is how I ‘escaped,’ ” I say with as much venom as I can.
Looking totally ashamed, he mutters, “I’m sorry. I truly am, Evie. I didn’t mean to imply …” He breaks off. “I’m sorry,” he repeats.
I nod tersely. I can see he’s sincere, but I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him.
“You know, the rest of my team should be here in a few hours. Why don’t we save any more revelations about this until everyone is assembled?”
I’m happy for any reason to get out of the interrogation. Though I still have questions of my own, what I really want is a quiet place where I can try to bring back more memories. Ethan’s questions and the underlying accusations — not to mention that I’ve clawed my way out of my own grave — have left me exhausted. There’s a question I want to ask, one that’s torturing me. What happened to my mom, dad, and little brother? I just can’t face it tonight. Flushed with shame, I get up to go, but at the last second I blurt out, “Do you know what happened to the rest of my family? Are they …”
I don’t have to finish; I know he will understand. Ethan had returned to pacing, but stops in his tracks when I ask the question.
“Your mother and brother were saved by a shopkeeper. She pulled them into her home and hid them in a closet. She kept a look out for you girls, but she never saw you. Your father wasn’t recovered. There was a lot of blood in the hotel room where you were staying, but they didn’t find him.”
The news about my dad weakens my knees, and my hands begin to shake. I can still feel my dad’s hands in mine as he slipped through my fingers. I stop and wonder where that last thought came from. Did he slip through my fingers? My frustration is starting to reach a boiling point. If I could just get my memory back! But the fact that at least my mother and brother are safe fills me with such relief; it’s almost too much to bear. I feel tears well in my eyes and spill onto my face. I put a hand to my face and wipe them away, astonished. Even though my heart isn’t beating, I can still cry. To me, those tears are proof that I’m not a monster. I’m still myself. Patty gets up and crosses over to me, wrapping me in a bone-crushing hug.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” she whispers into my hair. I return her hug, welcoming the warmth. “Why don’t you go and rest?” she says as she pulls away. The way she gently tucks my hair behind my ear reminds me so much of my own mother that it threatens to bring on a fresh wave of tears. All I can do is nod and turn to go. I am halfway down the hallway when I hear Ethan speak.
“Ma, how do you know so much about this?” I stop to listen; I’m a bit curious about this myself.
I hear a soft scraping sound. My guess is that it’s Patty’s guiltily shuffling feet, as she blurts out, “I read your files! I couldn’t sleep, and the stuff you have is so much more interesting than any of the books I read, and it’s all true.”
“Ma! I cannot believe you broke into my confidential files so you could have some bedtime reading!”
I hear Patty start to stammer out a response, but I’ve heard enough. Smiling to myself at Ethan’s indignation, I head to the back room to lie down and give myself some peace. Part of me wants this time to reflect on everything that has happened, but it’s no good. I’ve been through too much; I simply do not want to feel or think anymore.
I am so tired that even looking at the bed is making my eyes heavy. I decide a few hours of rest might be exactly what I need to jog my memory. I fall into bed fully clothed, and fall asleep before I have the chance to think about anything else.
MY DREAMS ARE FILLED with spurts of memories — from my childhood, from high school, from the day we left for the tour of the States that eventually led to my family being ripped apart. I wake up with my hands gripping the sheets. For a second, I have no idea where I am; then the night before comes flooding back to me, and I become aware of something else, too. The fractured feeling I’ve been dealing with has gone. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever thought this clearly before in my life. Every aspect of what’s happened has been burned into my mind. They are by far the clearest memories I’ve ever had. Every word, every facial expression — I can recall them as if they were happening right now. I suspect that this is the new normal for me. However, the memories of our capture and my murder are, frustratingly, still a blank.
I look at the clock; it’s six in the morning. It’s only been a few hours since I dug myself out of that shallow grave. Yet after just a couple hours of rest, I am full of energy.
I’m unable to stay still any longer, so I pace around the room. Maybe all Vengadors feel this way. That name pulls me up short. I continue to move, hoping that I will remember more about them, but I don’t. I want to deny what I am, but I can’t. This is the hand I’ve been dealt, and I’ve got to live with it. However, until I remember more about it, it won’t do me any good to dwell on it. So as hard as it is, I push it to the back of my mind.
But, I can’t just sit here either. I have a burning need to do something.
Looking around the room, I see a desk that has been shoved into a corner. If I can find a pen and paper, I know I can draw some of the guards who held us captive. Maybe Ethan will know who they are.
I hurry over the desk, and as quietly as possible, slide back the hatch. After just a minute of searching, I find a pencil and paper. I’m a pretty good artist, but after a few attempts, I have to acknowledge that I’m not good enough to render these as sharply as they need to be. Disgusted, I throw the pencil down on the desk, cursing softly as it rolls off onto the floor and out of sight. Leaning back in the chair, I notice a laptop that has been pushed to the back of the desk. Maybe if I do some research, I can get some clues that will illuminate where we go from here.
Now that I know a little more about what has happened, I decide to start with the kidnapping itself. Waiting for the computer to start, I brood. I feel like I’m doing my mother a disservice by not contacting her. Surely she must be crazy with worry. And though it breaks my heart to admit it, I know I’ll have to let her worry. If I call now, she will want me to come home, and I can’t do that. Only one thing matters to me now, and that is saving my sister. Scratch that. Two things are important — my sister and my revenge; the need to squeeze the life out of my enemies. The need is so fierce that it actually scares me. I’ve never felt anything like that before. It almost seems to be out of my control, and that frightens me even more.
I turn my attention back to the computer, hoping that giving myself a new purpose will squash this new, disturbing feeling. It may not help, but it’s better than doing nothing.
Articles about the kidnappings are not hard to find. Most don’t tell me much more than I already know. However, an article on human trafficking in Russia catches my attention. It’s a long shot, but maybe since it showed up in my search, they are related. The problem is that it’s in Russian. The coincidence of having had Russian captors and finding this article seems to be too much, and I really want to know what it says. Maybe I can find a Russian-to-English translation website. Soon I find what I am looking for. I get down on the floor and find the pencil I had thrown, and start working. I get about two minutes into working on it when I realize that I don’t need the paper — the words are there in my mind. My hand stops cold on the page. Every word of the Russian article comes to me without having to look back at it for reference. This seems impossible; I only glanced at it for a few seconds, yet it’s all there.
I snap my attention back to the screen and begin a new search. Instead of a website that translates for me, I look for a full English/Russian dictionary. In only half an hour, I memorize the entire dictionary. I go back to the article, just to make sure I remember everything correctly. Sure enough, I am able to read the entire article with no difficulty. I have just learned how to read, write, and possibly speak the Russian language in half an hour. The article hadn’t given me any helpful information, but the process of translating it had.
I lean back in my chair. A whole world of possibilities has just opened up for me. I wonder what else I can learn, and decide to test my limits. I search the Internet for instructional videos on how to draw, and find a series of complex lessons. After watching them all, I take the pencil back into my hand and, from memory, draw the men I will soon be hunting. In five minutes, I have drawn perfect replicas of all the guards I remember.
I spend the next couple of hours on the computer, researching whatever comes to mind. By the time I have finished, I am proficient in Russian, German, Italian, and French. I also discovered instructional videos on knife throwing, handgun use, three different forms of martial arts, and just for fun, origami. I don’t have any knives to throw, but there’s a fairly sharp letter opener on the desk. I pick it up, reverse my grip, and let it fly. It sinks into the pillow precisely where I aimed.
I get up, stretch, and try the martial arts movements; my body responds with minimal effort. What my brain takes in, my body seems to mimic. Taking it all in, I sink back into the chair, laughing softly. I guess college is going to be pretty easy. That thought brings a new and awful realization to me. How can I go to college now? I don’t think walking dead girls get invited to many parties. My life, the one I was going to have, is gone. There is no way around that. A feeling of loss overcomes me.
Before I have any more time to wallow in self-pity, I hear movement out in the kitchen and realize I’m not the only person awake anymore. I scoop up the pictures I’ve drawn and head out the door.
The smell of coffee, bacon, and eggs hits me as I wander down the hallway. I realize that I am not hungry. Strange. I would think after all that I have been through, I would need to eat. I stop mid-step. Maybe I don’t need to; maybe I can’t. How am I going to explain that one? I still haven’t reached an answer when I come into the kitchen. Both Patty and Ethan are up and moving about, and by the fact that breakfast is almost done, I guess they have actually been up for a while now. Patty is just putting a plate on the kitchen table when she glances up and smiles at me.
“How did you sleep?” she asks.
“Fine, thank you. I actually have something for you, Ethan,” I say. Ethan, who has been leaning against the counter, comes over and takes the pages I offer him. He stands stock-still after the first page.
“Evie, did you draw these? They’re fantastic,” he says after a few minutes.
I smile at him. “Thank you, and yes, those are some of the guards. Do they look familiar to you?”
“This man,” he says, holding up the picture of the most sour-looking of them, “Is Karloff Holland. He is well known for his criminal activity, but he somehow always finds a way to slip out before we can really catch him at anything. In fact, some of the people I have worked with call him, ‘the Eel.’ ”
For some reason, his face makes me shiver worse than the others. Glancing at it, I feel a surge of hatred, then hear a tiny crackling sound and look down. Electric current flows between my fingers. I clasp my hand shut and will it to go away. To my surprise, it does.
“I’m not sure about the other two. When Bo and the others get here, maybe they will know, or have an idea where we can find out.”
“Who’s Bo?” I ask.
Ethan breaks into a grin. “He is my partner, Humphrey Bogart Grant; Bo to his friends. His mom was an old movie fan,” he says.
I smile back at him. “I guess so.” I can’t help but notice how nice his smile is when he isn’t interrogating me.
Patty, who has been watching us, shakes herself and sits at the table. “Come on, guys, you can talk business and eat at the same time.”
Reluctantly, I join them at the table and wonder what will happen if I try to eat. Will I get sick? Will I throw it all back up? I guess there isn’t anything for me to do now other than try it and pray. At first I think it’s going well, but after a couple bites I feel like I’m going to be sick. I put my fork back onto my plate and push it away. Luckily, Patty and Ethan are too polite to say anything about my dismal appetite.
“I wanted to apologize for being so harsh with you last night, Evie,” Ethan says abruptly. “Sometimes I get carried away when I know I’ve got a lead, but that isn’t an excuse for upsetting you.”
His eyes meet mine, and a warm feeling floods through me. Nothing happens to my chest, so I know he is being sincere. It’s not hard to forgive him when he’s looking at me that way. I offer a small smile back.
“It’s okay. I understand.”
“I want you to know that I’m going to do everything in my power to help you and your family.” He places his hand on mine and gives it a quick squeeze. He draws his hand back and picks up his fork. I kind of wished he’d left it there.
Breakfast is a quiet affair after that, so I am able to hear the sound of an engine coming to a stop in front of the house.
“I think your partner’s here,” I say to Ethan.
He looks at me quizzically, but gets out of his chair to go see. I hear him cursing from the front room: “That’s the company van, but that isn’t Bo. Oh, God ...”
I push back my chair and race to Ethan’s side, making him jump in surprise. We peer out the window. Five men, heavily armed, are marching across the lawn. Two of the men are escorting a sixth, who is hooded and handcuffed. I take it this is a member of Ethan’s team.
Ethan and my eyes meet for just a split second and we both spring into action. I run back into the kitchen to tell Patty to hide, and she just stares at me, uncomprehending. I don’t have time to explain, so I scoop her up and carry her into a bedroom closet, hoping that if we fail, they may not find her. I rush back into the kitchen and grab every knife I can carry. I have moved so quickly that I’m back in the living room before Ethan has even had the chance to get his gun.
Now Patty’s deer-in-the-headlights look makes more sense. She wasn’t shocked by the men coming for us now; she was shocked by the speed which I had moved, and probably just as surprised by how easily I was able to carry her. Well, crap. There goes my cover. I block it out; I’ll deal with it when the time comes. I don’t have time to worry about it now anyway. The front door has been kicked in, and the first man in black comes charging through.