As I regain feeling in my body, a sharp pain in my chest shallows my breathing. My tongue feels swollen, as if it can barely fit in my mouth. My skin is covered in little scratches from my straw bed, and my pale skin is bright red.
Deep down, I know I should be panicking. I’ve been trapped and unconscious for what could be hours or days—I don’t know. Yet all I can interpret is the exhaustion weighing me down and the pain in my body.
I wipe away the crust caked on my lashes. The movement torments my shoulders, and I whimper. My throat burns with the sound, and I cough from the dust coating my tongue.
I need to ignore the pain and focus on what I know. I know the murderer is a man who has pale blonde hair and clear gray eyes. He was wearing a jacket and jeans in the humid, hot Massachusetts summer. Boots, even. I had been melting in the shorts and tank I’d worn to go biking. Is he even human? Does he come from the center of the earth?
I wonder if my coworkers or roommate would call for help—if they even notice I’m gone.
Managing to prop myself up on my elbows, I look around. The only light filters in through little cracks in the roof, revealing thousands of dust particles. My makeshift bed is situated beside a thick wooden pole with a heavy chain looped around it several times. The path of the chain leads to a wide metal cuff around my right ankle. A padlock with a six-digit combination keeps me locked in place.
Apparently he didn’t want to risk losing me.
Thinking about that man makes a new pain blossom in my chest. He is the man who killed my parents. After years of being tossed around in the foster care system, I had finally been able to call a place home.
But he ruined that for me.
I guess I’m not allowed to have a happy ending.
Slowly, feeling drifts down to my legs. Now that I can move them, I’m able to sit up. The movement sends a wave of lightheadedness that crashes through my head and settles as a lead ball of nausea in my gut.
The only sound I can make is a raspy whimper when I attempt to call out. The birds continue to chirp. Twigs snap in an unsteady rhythm, probably from a small animal. Aside from that, my prison is silent. I am alone.
I don’t want to die.
Maybe my roommate’s right. I should have believed the police when they said my parents’ deaths were an accident. Just a coincidence. I shouldn’t have put it all together, tracked him down. When I discovered he was one of my foster brothers, my blood had run cold. He could’ve been jealous or vengeful. It doesn’t matter, anymore. It’s too late to find out.
I shouldn’t have followed him to a boarded white barn in the middle of nowhere on my bike. I shouldn’t have tried to break in. I should have stayed home and watched Friends reruns while drinking wine.
I shouldn’t have tried to meddle.
Meddle. Meddle. Meddle.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Stupid enough to get myself killed.
The door’s closed several feet away, with no visible way to open it from the inside. Aside from me and the pole, the small shed is bare. Nothing is here except the microbes and me.
My legs wobble after I pull myself up with the pole. I dig my nails into the cracked wood until blood rushes down to my extremities, and I can stand with little support. I breathe out a small sigh of relief as my body begins to feel normal again. I can do this. I can survive.
I need to.
My chain gives me about four feet of distance I can wander. It keeps me just out of reach from the door, and only lets me in far enough to scrape my nails on the next pole holding up the barn. All of the walls are out of reach. The boarded up windows are feet above my head. And as weak as I am, I won’t be able to climb worth a damn.
A clang of metal startles me from my thoughts. I whirl on my heel, nearly tumbling over from the sudden movement. The door slides open as I blink my eyes to try and calm the vertigo making me sway on my feet. The man clucks his tongue at me and closes the door behind him. I watch him closely as he turns his attention to me and assesses me with cool gray eyes.
“I’m impressed,” he says. “Most couldn’t stand in your state.” He walks towards me, swinging a pistol dangling from his fingers. He pauses an arm’s length from me and tilts his head. “I really didn’t want to kill you. You should have left well enough alone.” His voice is chilled and flat, with no hint of remorse or regret. Although his voice is soft, it still intensifies the throbbing in my head. I wobble on my feet and slump against the pole, closing the distance between us.
“You took my parents.” Somehow, my voice comes out strong enough to make words. He braces his free hand on the pole beside me and lifts the gun to my face. After tracing a line down my heated cheek, he tucks it under my chin.
“They weren’t even blood,” he says and scoffs. This presses the metal harder into my jugular. I wince and shy away from the weapon, but he straightens up and wraps his other hand around the back of my neck. I freeze.
“You took them,” I repeat. “Go to hell.”
He takes a step back and raises the pistol to aim at my head. I squeeze my eyes shut against the sight. Panic rises up in my chest, but he speaks before I can quell it.
“Keep it hot for me.”
The gunshot is the last thing I ever hear.
Written by: Jeanine Kleist
Photograph by: Kayla King