**This has not been edited yet either; I don't send the MS to the editor until it is completely done. Content might change before final publication.**
The Contagium Series
Book # 3
Copyright Emily Goodwin 2013
It never occurred to me to look up until it was too late. Someone jumped down, landing hard on my back. I fell forward and the wind got knocked out of me. Another launched himself down at Rider. Rider dodged out of the way and rolled to my side. He kicked the guy on top of me hard in the ribs. The guy cried out and pulled a gun from his side.
“No!” I shouted. I struggled to get my own weapon. The other guy was faster. My fingers closed on my knife right as the shot rang out. Birds took flight, the flapping of their wings echoing off the trees. Rider fell to his knees, his hands on his stomach. Blood pooled around his fingers.
“No!” I screamed again. I closed my hand around the knife and sprang up. “Rider!” I cried, rushing over to him. Tears blurred my vision.
“Riss,” he muttered and started coughing. Blood bubbled from his lips.
I crawled to him, crying. He reached out for me and just as our fingers touched, I was jerked away. I swung my hand around and made contact with who ever had a handful of my hair. He yelled in pain and kicked me in the back, his foot hitting my kidney.
I thrashed forward, desperately wanting to get away and get to Rider. I raised my hand again and brought the point of the knife down on the guy’s foot.
“Dumb bitch,” he said and grabbed my wrist. The guy who shot Rider walked over. He laughed when he saw me struggling.
“This one seems like fun,” he said and kicked the knife from my hand.
“I will kill you both!” I threatened. I elbowed the guy who was holding me in the ribs and brought my foot up to smash his balls. His grip on my hair loosened and I was able to pull away. The other guy leaned in to grab me. I reached behind me to get the M9 but it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out when the bastard landed on me.
I didn’t have time to get the M16 from around my neck. Something stuck me in the back of the head. Stunned, I wavered. Then I felt a heavy blow to my knees, causing me to fall. I made one last attempt to get to Rider, who was coughing and gurgling up blood.
“I’m sorry,” I cried. My fingers closed around his. He gave them one last squeeze. I made a mad grab for his pistol. I grabbed it, aimed at my attacker and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. Unlike me, Rider was smart and kept his safety on. From behind, someone kicked me in the side and then kicked the pistol out of my hands. He raised his foot and it came crashing down on my ribs. A horrible, biting, sharp pain flooded my body. It hurt so badly I could barely breathe.
Hands harshly grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled me back, dragging me over the rough ground. I cried out in protest and pain when another blow came to my ribcage. Heavy, rough hands gripped my arms.
The guy who attacked Rider picked up my pistol and hit me in the temple. My vision was fuzzy and blood dripped in my face. I struggled to get away, trying to twist and sink my fingernails into my attacker’s skin.
I couldn’t get my feet to work properly. I was a couple yards away from Rider now. I reached up and dug my nails into the guys arm.
“Ah!” he yelled. I heard the familiar sound of a magazine sliding in a gun. The guy stopped dragging me. I felt a bone shattering pain in the back of my head.
And then everything went black.
Radiating, heart stopping pain woke me up. I was sprawled out on a clammy cement floor. The air was rancid and something dripped, splashing into a shallow puddle. Little droplets of liquid splashed onto my face. My vision was too fuzzy to tell if it was blood or water.
I took a deep breath and was hit with a dizzying round of pain again. It took all the strength I had to move my hand to my tender torso. I flinched when my hand touched my ribs. I took a shallow breath and slowly sat up.
I couldn’t do it. I collapsed back down, sending red hot hurt across my entire rib cage. I closed my eyes and carefully touched each rib. I was certain that no less than two ribs on the ride side were at cracked if not completely broken. I could barely breath the pain was so intense.
I was shivering uncontrollably, which wasn’t helping the situation at all. With my cheek pressed to the cold, dirty floor, I concentrated on getting enough oxygen. After a minute, I pushed myself up again. Every part of me screamed in protest. What the hell had been done to me? I felt as if I had been hit by a truck, thrown down a flight of stairs…or dragged through a field and then into a prison cell.
I opened my eyes. Yes, the latter was what had happened. A lump of vomit threatened to come up but was choked down by a sob.
I crawled to the front of the cell. I could hear the distant shuffle off feet and the murmur of hushed voices. A rolling office chair and a stained coffee cup sat a few feet to the right of my cell. Candy wrappers littered the space around it. A hand gun rested on the faded blue cushion of the chair.
I desperately looked around for Rider. Suddenly remembering that I might not be alone, I whirled around—a bad move on my part. Pain hit me like a fist in the face. I doubled over, feeling like I might really puke.
The shuffling of feet turned into footfalls and the voices grew louder. I scuttled back to my spot on the floor and lay down again.
“…took his weapons. He was still breathing when we brought the bitch inside,” a gruff voice spoke.
“She put up a good fight, ‘eh? Heard she got Pauly pretty good.”
“Hells yeah. Adrian—I mean Dre—will get a kick outta her. What do we do with her until he gets back?”
“Kisha says to leave her be. And don’t mess up her face. You know Dre likes ‘em pretty.”
The two men came to a stop in front of the cell. I didn’t move a muscle. One of them picked up the gun and pulled back the hammer, a sound I was familiar with. He plopped heavily in the chair and the wheels skid back under his weight.
“Get off your ass, Joe!” the gruffer of the two voices shouted. “You’re such a lazy piece of shit,” he huffed.
“Get off it, Cutter!” Joe shifted his weight, causing the chair to creak. “What’s she gonna do? She’s still knocked out cold.”
Cutter laughed—it was deep and husky and vile. “Yeah, I clocked her good.”
I made a mental note of that. I had no idea how I’d do it, but I was going to crack Cutter’s skull until his brain oozed out.
“Can we play with her?” Joe asked.
“I told you—leave her be! Dre should be back in a few. Then we’ll decide.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed.
“Don’t. Touch. Her,” Cutter reiterated.
“Fuck you, Cutter,” Joe jeered. “I can handle my own shit.”
“We’ll see about that,” Cutter mumbled and walked away. “Come on, we have to get that Ginger prick’s body before it attracts the biters.”
Thinking they had both left, I was just about to look up when I heard the chair creak again. I didn’t want to move until he was gone. But then what? I was locked in a prison cell. Even I couldn’t get myself out of this.
Mentally deciding it was now or never, I took a sharp intake of breath as if I was just waking up. That, of course, hurt like a mother.
“Hey!” Joe dumbly yelled. I slowly pushed myself up. “Hey! Hey girl!” he shouted. “Are you awake?”
I groaned and pushed myself up even more. I momentarily considered acting like I was waking up dead—as in zombie dead. But that might have gotten me shot. I pulled myself to my knees, the pain in my rib cage blinding. “No, I’m still asleep, dipshit,” I sneered.
“About time you woke up. Lucky you got a nap,” he told me. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be nice.
“Yeah, so lucky.”
I looked out into the hall. Joe was no taller than me, incredibly pale, very thin, and had a wispy blonde chin strip of a beard that was grown out and banded together. His gray eyes widened and his nostrils flared. He jumped up from the chair.
“Calm your shit,” I spat, just to piss him off. I had a nagging feeling he didn’t like being told what to do.
“Watch your mouth,” he warned me.
“Or what, you’ll beat me up?” I glared at him, swallowing the lump of fear in my throat.
“Just you wait. Wait till Dre gets back. You’ll wish beat is all he does.”
“Yup. I’ll wait. I’m not going anywhere, dumbass.” Insulting him made me feel less afraid. Really, it should have been packing the fear into me. I had no idea what Joe was capable of. I wondered if I should reason with him, let him know we are on the same side: Living in this dead world.
No. They shot Hayden and Rider. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes when I thought of them. I knew Hayden heard the shot. He would come for me, I didn’t want him to but I knew he would. If he was lucky, Ivan would have held him back until they came up with a plan. I hoped to God that they had gotten to Rider in time.
It was absolutely ridiculous to hold onto that shred of hope. I wanted so desperately to believe that Rider was going to pull through. I wanted to see his big smile, blue eyes, and messy red hair again.
“Listen here,” Joe sneered and bent close to the bars. Before he could begin attempting to put the fear of God in me, he straightened up and looked down the hall. “Anything?” he shouted.
“No,” a female voice answered. “Just the red head and the bitch. Fucking stupid, if you ask me. I don’t know what the hell they were trying to accomplish. Doesn’t matter now, I suppose.”
My heart skipped a beat and I had to remind myself not to look up with a doe-eyed look. They hadn’t found Hayden. He was still alive. And if he was still alive, then Rider had a chance.
“This is her?” the woman asked. “I thought she’d be bigger from how Cutter described her.” She leaned close to the bars and inspected me as if I was a zoo animal. I wished I was able to run to the bars with my teeth bared.
She smacked gum, chewing with her lips apart. As she continued to look me over, I stole a glance of her as well. She had on dark jeans that were a size too small; they squeezed her narrow waist so much that skin spilled over the waistband. Her tee shirt was cut so that it fell off her shoulder and the ends were gathered and balled up, held together with a hair-tie. Her hair baffled me; half was in braids that ended in perfect spiral curls. Who the fuck curled their hair when freaking zombies ran amuck?
Rainbow laces were loosely tied in her high top Converse shoes and gold bangles rattled from each arm. She stood up and flicked her hair back, revealing large hoop earrings as well. She couldn’t be any older than twenty-one.
Her brown eyes lingered on me for a few more seconds. Then she waved her hands and spun around. “Leave her be. Once my Dre-Dre gets back we’ll figure somethin’ out.”
“You’re the boss, Kisha.”
“Uh-huh,” Kisha replied, her words high pitched at the ends like she was just so innocent. Without so much as one look back, she walked down the hall. A moment later, Joe followed.
I was alone as far as I could tell. I could hear voices echoing through the hall but I couldn’t make out a word of what was being said. They steadily grew louder. I moved to the front of the cell and turned my head, only able to see their shadows.
“You fucking retard!” Cutter yelled.
“It’s not my fault!” someone yelled back.
“You had one job to do and that was to kill the boy and get rid of the body!” Cutter spat.
“My foot!” the guy yelled. “She stuck a knife in it!”
“Pauly, do you know what this means?” Cutter bellowed.
“Nothing, it means nothing!” Pauly argued. “He was shot! In the stomach. No ways he’s gonna recover from that!” I put my hands on the bars. My heart sped up. They were talking about Rider. “He’s not a threat!”
“Bullshit!” Cutter screamed. “How do we know he didn’t run off to his buddies, huh? Tell them we took their bitch? They’ll come after her, come after us!”
“There’s no way—” Pauly began but was cut off when Cutter punched him, the smacking of flesh on flesh echoing in the empty hall.
“Dre’s not gonna be happy about this,” Cutter mused. “No, not at all.”
“We’ll tell him what happened; that I was hurt and you handled the girl.”
“Hurt? It’s your fucking foot! Not good enough…no, not enough. It would be more…tragic though if you were fatally wounded too. Yeah…and I was the-the hero for taking them both on. I tried to save you too. What a shame. Good thing biters got the bastard. There is nothing left.”
“What? None of that happened. You want me to lie to Dre?” Pauly asked. “Wait, no! Cutter what are you—”
Cutter shoved a knife into Pauly’s stomach. Pauly cried out in pain and slid against the wall.
“Would you look at that?” Cutter said calmly. “That bitch got you real good. No wonder the ginger got away from ya. It’s a shame we lost a good man out there. I’ll tell Dre you went down fighting.” He raised the knife again, putting an end to Pauly’s cries of pain.
I pushed away from the bars. Holy shit. Cutter just killed one of his own. He terrified me more than any zombie. My breath came out in ragged huffs. Cutter picked up Pauly’s ankles and dragged him away. Trembling, I put my hand over my mouth. Rider was alive. He had gotten away. He had a chance!
I moved my hand from my mouth to my chest; my heart was beating so fast it hurt. I forced myself to take a slow, deep breath and winced from the pain. I closed my eyes and took another. I moved away from the front of the cell and began to feel the panic of being trapped. I looked around the cell for anything useful. It had been striped. The metal bed didn’t have a mattress on it anymore and the built in furniture had been removed. There was nothing in here that could help at all.
I had been in jail once before and in juvie twice. Though, I had never come close to a maximum security prison. The escape factor was low for me with this one. I closed my eyes and thought about how bad my ribs hurt. I was terrified and thinking about the pain distracted me from my fear.
It didn’t last long, however. The image of Hayden’s face lingered in my memory. I hated that he was worrying about me. I hated what he had to be going through.
“…no, I’ll be fine. She’s behind bars, you dumb-bo,” Kisha told someone, her voice gradually growing loud enough for me to hear. I took a shaky breath and waited.
“Hi Hayden,” she said in a girly voice and sat in the rolling chair. My heart skipped a beat at the sound of his name. Hayden? How did she know about Hayden? Oh my God—they must have gotten him too! My hand flew to the dog tags that hung around my neck. Oh, right. Idiot, I thought to myself. “I’m Kisha. So, you stumbled upon our hide out. How did you get here?”
“I walked,” I said simply.
She laughed and the sound was like wind chimes. “Duh! Where did you come from?”
“Wow! You walked all the way from Kentucky?” she asked, trying to pronounce the state’s name in a southern accent.
“Where are your friends?” she asked and dropped some of her charm.
“Dead,” I said bitterly.
She laughed again. “Come on, Hayden, we don’t have to be like this. We’re just talkin’, ya know, like girls do.”
I glared at her.
“So,” she pressed. “Tell me straight. Where are your friends? Do they know you are here?”
“They did. But they’re dead now.” My heart beat in my throat. I looked up, refusing to cry. I needed to hold it together.
“Where did you two get your guns? You both had big machine guns, right?”
“We found them.”
“Mh-hm,” she muttered. “You’re in the army,” she began and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and correct her. “So are you sure you just found them? The government didn’t supply you with guns?”
“Yes, the government gave us each a machine gun and sent us on our merry way,” I spat dryly.
She narrowed her eyes, glared and me, and sighed. “You’re gonna be a fun one, aren’t ya?”
When I didn’t say anything in response, she continued drilling me. “And how did you get here?” she asked again, as if asking me the second time would make me suddenly tell the truth.
“We wandered. We went anywhere just trying to escape the zombies.”
She leaned back in the chair. “I see. And you just thought you could move in on our set up?”
“Of course not; there were only two of us.” I looked up and took a jagged breath. “Listen, Kisha. I think this is a misunderstanding. We had no intentions on moving in or whatever. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two teams right now: dead and alive. Seeing that we are both alive, I think something can be worked out, don’t you?” I reasoned.
She huffed, flipped her hair, and crossed her arms. “Outsiders are threats. We’re fine without you.”
“Then let me go. I’m just one girl; I can’t do any damage,” I pleaded.
“We’re not done with you, yet,” she threatened. She cast me one more telling glance before striding down the hall. I got up and thoroughly searched the cell, knowing it was a moot point since it was a cell after all. I walked back and forth, trying to will the stiffness out of my body.
It was my damn injured ribs that hindered me. I couldn’t take a deep breath, straighten up, or twist my torso without pain crippling me. And I was so incredibly thirsty. I even broke down and tried the small sink; it had been disconnected.
Feeling hopeless, I sat on the hard bed and tried to come up with a plan. Maybe I could fake the extent of my injuries to get some sort of medical attention. I planned to punch whoever came in to look at me hard in the throat so he couldn’t call for help and slam his head into the cement walls at least twice before making a break for it.
Then I’d no doubt run into a closed door or a locked hall…or get shot.
I just didn’t see a way out for me unless I reasoned and bartered…and that plan didn’t seem too promising considering I had just witnessed Cutter plunge a knife into someone he knew with no hesitation. Slowly, I rose from the bed and walked to the front of the cell. My fingers wrapped around the cool, sticky metal. For good measure, I gave the bars a shake. As expected, they didn’t budge.
I looked for the lock and was confused for a few seconds when I didn’t find it. Then I remembered Brock saying that this jail was rather new; everything was no doubt controlled electronically now, as was almost everything before the outbreak. The only ‘key’ was inside some sort of electrical device. Hell, maybe there was even an app for it.
I wrapped my arms around myself, gently cradling my sore ribs and sat back on the bed. Even though I had nothing to pick a lock with, it was disheartening to know that the slight chance of escape was nonexistent. I ran my hands through my hair and took careful deep breaths, unable to keep Hayden off my mind. I wanted to look into his hazel eyes, to hear him laugh, to feel his touch on my skin. I wanted to hold him and tell him I was sorry for wandering off without him.
It felt like hours had passed before I couldn’t sit any longer. I got up and paced around the cell, ignoring the pain every breath caused. My throat was beginning to burn from being so dry. My stomach grumbled with hunger, though I didn’t think I’d be able to eat if a feast was laid out in front of me.
Voices floated down the hall. Angry voices; it sounded like two men arguing. The identifiable sound of someone getting a fist to the face made me jump. Someone whistled and the sound of pounding feet echoed through the dark hall. I moved to the front of the cell.
The fuzzy outlines of three men became visible. Only two were walking, the third was being dragged. Ignoring my stares, the guys dragged the body in front of the cell across from mine. One of the men let go of the unconscious man’s hand, which smacked against the concrete floor with a thud. He hurried off down the hall to press the button on whatever controlled the locks.
The cell door clicked open, and the body was deposited inside.
“Let him rot,” one of the men grumbled.
“Traitor,” the other spat. They cast curious looks at me but walked away. I put a hand on the bars and peered across the way. His back was to me, so I couldn’t see his face.
“Hey,” I said quietly. “Knocked out cold,” I speculated when the man didn’t respond. I shook my head and plotted back to the metal bed. I stared straight ahead and tried not to panic. Forcing myself to remain calm, I counted to one hundred. As soon as I began to count backwards, the guy groaned. I watched, waiting for him to come to.
Slowly, he sat up, rubbed his head, and looked around. He let out a heavy sigh of annoyance, as if waking up in a cell was something he’d done before. He stood and stepped close to the bars. The dim hallway light illuminated his face. Dark brown eyes peered at me curiously. He had a mess of black hair and tan skin. I wasn’t expecting him to be so young—or so attractive.
“Hey,” he finally responded. “You’re the girl they found?”
“Define found,” I said back cattily.
He laughed and flashed a white smile. “Yeah, the boys are a little, uh, unorthodox, I suppose.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“I’m Carlos,” he introduced.
“Hayden,” I said, sticking with the lie. “Why are you in here?” I blurted.
“Long story,” he chuckled.
“I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you,” I pointed out.
“Right, right. Why am I here? The first time it was for drug dealing. Now, it’s because I want out.”
“Out?” I asked, swallowing my pounding heart.
“Why can’t you leave?”
“Oh, I can leave,” he told me. Seeing my confusion, he continued. “Leaving is suicide. I got no support out there. I want to leave the life. I wanted to before hell broke loose.” He leaned on the bars and laughed. “I was supposed to get out a month after the first guy went crazy.”
“Get out?” I asked, and then suddenly realized that Carlos had never left. And if he hadn’t, then the others probably hadn’t either. It made sense, now that I thought about it. I had assumed that this Dre and his band of survivors were just that—survivors. I assumed they wandered around like we had and stumbled upon a nice, safe jail to reside it. But I was wrong. The guys in here had been here since before zombies roamed the earth. They were dangerous and had been locked up for a reason; they were all criminals.
If no one could get out, then no one could get in. No one infected. In all actuality, it was almost perfect; zombies would never breach the walls. My mind raced with thoughts of what it was like after the virus hit. What happened to the guards? How did Dre come into power?
“Yeah,” Carlos answered. “I was gonna get my GED, go to college, and make a life for myself. My uncle was gonna let me move in with him up in Jersey. A fresh start, ya know?”
“I do,” I told him.
“What’s your story?” he asked, tipping his head back a bit.
“My friend and I were looking for survivors. We saw tire tracks and followed them.”
“You have a camp?” he inquired.
I shook my head. “No. We are always on the move.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You look too well fed to be on the move. I’ve seen my fair share of wanderers. You’re from a camp.”
“Why do you care?” I spat.
“Oh, I don’t. They do,” he whispered in warning. “Listen,” he said with urgency. “Whatever you do, don’t—”
He cut off when someone came down the hall. The man who called himself Cutter stopped in front of my cell.
“The girl doesn’t know anything,” Carlos said quickly. “I already questioned her.”
“Fuck off,” Cutter said over his shoulder. “Why would I trust her, and why would I trust you, traitor?” he jeered. I caught a glimpse of Carlos’s face; his dark eyes were full of pity.
“Unlock it!” Cutter yelled. The door clicked open. He held up a knife, weak light shining off the silver blade. “Don’t even think about it,” he taunted. “Get up.”
I stood quickly, grimacing in pain. Knowing this was going to hurt, I took a breath and braced myself. The moment Cutter stepped into my cell, I dropped and spun, kicking my leg out and knocking Cutter off of his feet. I scrambled up, moving slower than I wanted to. I kicked his right hand, sending the knife skidding out of the cell and across the hall. Carlos grabbed it before Cutter even noticed what happened.
On its own accord, my body doubled over in pain. Cutter sprang to his feet, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and yanked my head up. With his other hand, he hit the side of my head. I sank to the ground, my vision fuzzy. Heavy hands grabbed my shoulders and harshly flipped me over. His fist hit my face once more before he took a handful of my hair.
“You like that, bitch?” he jeered. He yanked my head up, causing me to cry out in pain. I planted my hands on the ground and raise my right leg, kneeing him in the back. The blow caused him to fall onto me. Searing pain webbed across my rib cage. I clasped my hands around his face and dug my fingernails into his skin. Cutter rolled off of me, getting away from the pain.
“Cutter!” someone shouted. “What’s going on in there?” Cutter froze, knowing he wasn’t supposed to hurt me. His eyes met mine for a millisecond before he backed off.
“Nothing!” he yelled. “Bitch took a swing at me, that’s all.”
“Cutter!” a high pitched voice screamed. “What the hell are you doing in there?” Kisha’s voice grew louder as she moved down the hall. “Bring her here!” she ordered. “Now!”
“Yes, m’am,” Cutter replied. He moved to grab me; I shied away. I knew he was going to take the knife. Acting on impulse, I threw it across the aisle. It slid to a stop in front of Carlos, who quickly snatched it up.
“You’ll pay for this,” he threatened and hit me once more, knocking me out.
When I came to, I was sitting in a chair. My arms and legs were strapped down. I had a horrible ringing in my ears and a pounding headache.
“Hi, Hayden,” Kisha said with fake charm, her voice as irritating as nails on a chalk board. I blinked and looked around the room; it was dimly lit and empty except for the chair I was sitting in, a table, and two chairs on its other side. Through a window, I saw that the daylight had vanished from the clear sky. Knowing that hours had passed since I had last seen my friends made my stomach flip-flop with nerves. I wanted out. I needed out.
“Glad you finally woke up,” she sneered, crossing her arms to show off the gun she had tucked into an ugly, overly bedazzled jacket. “I have a few questions for you. If you answer like a good girl, everything will be fine.”
I didn’t open my mouth to spit back a sarcastic remark. Instead, I tried to keep breathing. Cutter leaned over me, grinning. He placed his hand on my cheek and exhaled. His breath smelled like stale cigarettes. He let his hand fall, his fingers trailing down my neck and caressing my collar bone. I shivered in disgust.
He laughed and leaned in closer. With his face just inches from mine, he parted his lips. And I head butted him. He recoiled; one hand flying to his nose and the other landing hard on my face.
“Bitch!” he yelled and raised his fist.
“Cutter!” Kisha yelled. “What are you doing?”
Cutter snarled at me, exhaled, and lowered his hand.
“Save it,” Kisha said in a level tone. Her dark eyes met mine and her mouth curved into a wicked smile. “Come,” she ordered to Cutter, who took a step back. He looked away and then jumped at me again, trying to scare me. I set my face and glowered at him.
He flicked off the lights when he left the room. Totally in the dark, I couldn’t see anything. I kept my eyes focused on what I thought was the doorway, but I was soon seeing gray shapes moving around the room that I knew only existed in my head.
I jerked my arms, causing the metal cuffs to cut into my skin. The arms of the chair weren’t going to break easily. I tried standing up; the chair was bolted to the floor. I planted my feet on the ground, grabbed the arms of the chair and tried to stand. The legs wiggled slightly. I repeated the effort again and again, until I was out of breath. I exhaled and was reminded of my broken ribs. The chair has loosened; I could probably break it free with one more tug…once I could breathe again.
I shook my head. How was I going to get out of this one? If every breath hurt, could I really run to safety?
“Maybe,” I said aloud. My sophomore year of high school I dated Cory Thomas, the starting quarter back for our school’s football team. He was tall, blonde, and two years older than me. My stepdad Ted did not approve. Three days before the homecoming game, Cory broke several ribs during practice. But he played, and played well. He ended up in the hospital after the game, though.
If he could push past the pain for the sake of a stupid football game, then I could do it for my life. I nodded in the dark. I had to do it.
“I will,” I whispered. I saw Rider’s face flash across my mind; I had more than just my life to fight for. I wanted revenge.
Footfalls echoed through the empty hall. I swallowed any doubt and straightened up. Rage fueled my weak body. A cone of light from a flashlight illuminated the door. The person carrying it stopped and shut it off. A second later, the lights flicked on. I blinked, my eyes madly trying to adjust to the harsh artificial light.
“Wakey-wakey!” Kisha cooed. A man I assumed to be Dre followed her in. He wasn’t any taller than me, but was muscular. Tattoos and scars covered his tan arms. His head was shaved clean and a thin beard covered the bottom half of his face.
“Hi Hayden,” he said to me, his eyes glinting with pleasure when he spoke my name, as if he expected me to be surprised. I raised an eyebrow and leaned back in the chair. “I’m Dre,” he introduced. “I run this place. I got people to take care of. Ya understand, right?”
I pressed my lips together and didn’t respond.
Dre sighed dramatically and cracked his knuckles. “We can’t risk strangers walking into our camp, ya know?”
Yes, I did know. And I agreed. But I’d be damned to tell him that.
“So,” he continued. “I’ve got some questions for you.” He walked behind the chair; nerves tingled by not being able to see him. “Where did you come from?”
“Kentucky,” I said shortly.
“Is your camp there?”
“I don’t have a camp,” I told him.
Dre put a hand on my shoulder. “Yes, you do. Where is it?”
“I don’t have a camp,” I repeated.
Kisha’s eyes widened and she smiled, watching Dre. My heart beat faster.
“Where is your camp?” he asked again, saying each word slowly.
“I don’t have a camp,” I said for the third time. Dre walked around me, his hand sliding down my arm. He held something in his other hand and a flicker of fear ran through me when I recognized the taser. Dre turned it on and pressed a little black button. A blue line of electricity zapped from the prongs.
“Tell me where your camp is,” he said through clenched teeth and let go of the button.
“I don’t have a camp,” I said flatly, feeling like a broken record.
He pressed the taser to my abdomen. “Yes you do.” The jolt of electricity shocked through my body and continued to tingle after Dre released the taser. “Thing is, Hayden, my boys have now shot two of your friends.”
My blood ran cold. I struggled to keep my face neutral. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
He hit me again with the taser. “Yes you do. You think we’d forget a pretty face like this? You have a camp.” He took a step back and crossed his arms. “You have food. You have weapons. You have that truck with the gun mounted in the back.”
I shook my head, feeling like I was sinking in frigid water. “No, I don’t. You’re thinking of someone else.”
Dre laughed, put the taser in a pocket of his baggy jeans and hit me, his fist smacking into the same spot that Cutter had hit me. The pain made a twist of nausea surge in my gut.
“Tell me where the camp is. I know you have one. Some of your other friends went after my boys.”
Fuck. They did…and they killed two and injured another. “No,” I told him defiantly.
He hit me again. “Listen bitch, you tell me where the camp is or—”
“Or what?” I interrupted. “You’ll kill me?”
“You’ll be begging for death.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please. Seen enough cheesy mob movies? If you’re gonna threaten me, at least make them original. I bet Bubba the executioner is on his way with a big bag of knives, am I right?”
The only answer I got was Dre’s fist landing on my forearm and then the taser pressing into my right shoulder.
“Last chance—tell me where the camp is!” Dre demanded.
I forced myself to keep from screaming in pain. “No. Kill me…and then you’ll never know.”
Dre let out a breath and stared at me, unmoving. Waiting for his next move was almost as bad as being beaten. Finally, he stood, walked over to Kisha, and took something from her. A wicked smile revealed Dre’s yellowed teeth. He turned around, holding up a large knife. Fear swelled in my heart.
“Time for some fun,” he leered. Part of my brain screamed at me to just make up some lie and end the torture. I was positive this wasn’t going to end well no matter what I told them. I had to hold out as long as I could. I had something they needed; I hoped they wouldn’t really kill me just yet. I needed to buy time. Hayden would do something; that I was sure of.
Dre rested the tip of the knife on my arm. “Let’s make this simple,” he began. “Do you have a camp?”
“You already said you knew the answer to that one, asshole,” I retorted.
Dre added pressure to the knife. I watched the blade push down my skin. “Where is your camp?”
“I never was good with directions,” I told him innocently. The blade punctured my skin. A cry of pain escaped my lips.
“Where is it?”
“I’m drawing a blank. All those blows to the head must have messed with my memory.”
Dre dragged the knife down my arm, slowly tearing my skin. I couldn’t help but cry out in pain again. Blood dripped onto the floor.
“Tell me,” he demanded. I curled my lips over my teeth and kept my mouth shut. Dre put the tip of the knife in the cut and pushed down. I screamed when he dragged it through my broken skin. He asked me where the camp was again and repeated the horrible process of deepening the wound. He moved behind me again and put a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m not playing around,” he warned. He raised the knife to my throat. “Tell me where the camp is or I’ll slit your throat.”
“Go ahead and do it,” I tried to snarl but my voice faltered. My body hurt and I was terrified. Tears blurred my vision.
“Just do it!” Kisha encouraged. My heart skipped a beat, thinking that Dre would really do it. It’d only take minutes, if even that long, for me to die. At least I really wouldn’t suffer.
“Not yet,” Dre scolded.
I closed my eyes and tears rolled down my cheeks. I let out a breath and felt a smidgen of relief. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. I pressed them on the arms of the chair. Blood spilled from the gash in my left arm.
Dre let the knife clatter to the floor, splattering my blood on the white tile. He knelt down in front of me. “You’re gonna wish I had killed you, you stupid cunt.”
“I’ll kill myself,” I threatened. “With the blood loss it won’t be hard.” I looked at my bleeding arm and then back at Dre.
Angered, he grabbed the taser and pressed it against my neck. My hair blocked some of the shock. Still, the electricity shot through my body and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I let my eyes roll back and my head drop.
Dre pulled the taser back and stood.
“Did you kill her?” Kisha asked, her voice shrill.
Dre’s fingers pressed against my neck. “No. She’s alive. Just knocked out.” I heard feet scuffle away from me. I opened one eye and saw that Dre was a few feet away from me with his back turned. Heart racing, I wrapped my hands around the arms of the chair. I pressed my feet on the ground and sprang up.
The bolts didn’t snap like I had hoped. Kisha screamed and Dre whirled around. He advanced on me fast and hit me once more, knocking me out for real that time.
Want more? Let me know what you think of this so far and I'll post chapter 2!