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It's called nyctophobia. I looked it up once. It's the official term for an abnormal and persistent fear of the dark. I've had it ever since my parents and sister were murdered during an in-home burglary while I hid under my bed.
In the dark I couldn't see anything; all I could hear was the screaming.
And then the silence.
So, yeah. I've been scared like hell of the dark ever since. Go figure.
Unfortunately, that's where I found myself when I opened my eyes. Frankly, I didn't remember closing them. I'd been in the mall, I remembered that much. I'd just lifted a new pair of shoesmy old pair was worn out since all I do is walk everywhere in the city, day in and day out. This pair was nice. Red. With strong laces that, if necessary, could double as a weapon.
The streets were tough sometimes. Especially at night. Especially in the dark.
Like right now.
But this wasn't the street, I knew that much. I was inside. Somewhere.
Choking panic began to flood my body. I knew freaking out wouldn't help, but sometimes you can't stop yourselfor reason with yourselfwhen you're in the process of freaking out.
I felt a pinch at my right wrist and reached over with my other hand, trying to feel my way through the inky blackness. It was a metal cuff. Attached to a chain. Attached to the smooth, cold metal wall behind me.
What the hell is going on?
Had I been caught shoplifting? Was this prison? I wracked my brain to try to remember being arrested, but came up blank. No, I'd grabbed the shoes, shoved them under my coat, and left the store to go into the half-abandoned mall where I'd put them on and thrown my old ones in a garbage can. And then then what happened?
I remembered wanting to grab some food. I'd had two bucks to my name, so I'd figured I could buy a small order of French fries at one of the few restaurants that were still open. That would last me a day before my stomach would start complaining again.
Had I even made it to the food court?
I couldn't have. I was still hungry. Starving. My body felt as if it was eating itself, but that was a bit of an exaggeration, I guess. Yesterday I'd had an entire meal. Ordered off the menu even, and then tried to skip out before the bill came. The owner of the diner had caught me, reprimanded me, and I'd figured that that was ithe'd call the cops.
Instead, he'd taken pity on me and made me wash dishes.
It was a humbling experience, but I'd had a lot of those since my family died.
In the end, I appreciated his kindness. Washing dishes was a whole lot better than getting arrested.
Okay, breathe, Kira, I told myself. And I did. I took a deep breath in through my nose and let it out through my mouth. My heart thudded hard in my ears.
Why couldn't I remember what had happened after I'd taken the shoes? Damn it. And where was I?
I seriously had to calm down. This wasn't helping.
I took another breath in and out and forced myself to listen. For anything. There had to be something other than this total silence that told me absolutely nothing helpful.
And then I heard something. I pushed my fears out of the way as best I could and strained my ears.
Breathing. I could hear soft breathing.
Someone else is in the room.
This realization did not ease my mind. Just the opposite. The thought that somebody was in the darkness with me scared me enough that I almost started to cry.
But I was tough now. At least that's what I tried to tell myself every morning when I woke up to face another day. This shouldn't be any different.
"H-h-hello?" Stuttering does not help the situation, I thought. "Who's there?"
The breathing hitched. I heard something heavy shift against the floor about fifteen feet away.
Then the something spoke. "Wh what the hell?"
A guy's voice. His words were gruff and raspy as if he'd just woken from a deep sleep.
"Who are you?" I ventured again.
Why did I sound so weak? I hated that. He cleared his throat and groaned. "Shit." Well, he did seem to have a fine command of the English language.
I strained to see something, but there was only black. "Tell me who you are."
There was a pause, and then another groan. It actually sounded like a moan of pain as I heard him shift position again.
I frowned. "Hey, are you okay?"
He snorted. "Fantastic. I'm just fantastic, thanks for asking. And you?"
Sarcasm. Yeah, I recognized that. "I've been better, actually."
Chains rattled. Not mine, so that meant that this guy was also restrained. But why?
"I'm Rogan," he said after a moment. "So pleased to meet you."
"Where are we?"
"I tell you my name and you don't reciprocate? Didn't your mother teach you any manners?"
"My mother's dead."
That shut him up. Momentarily. "Sorry to hear that."
"It was a long time ago."
"Doesn't make it any easier."
Very true. Two years. Felt like foreveryet, at the same time, it felt like only yesterday. "My name's Kira."
"Well, Kira, where we are is anyone's guess." I pressed back against the hard wall.
We could be anywhere, and there wasn't a damn thing to give me a clue where that was. Except for the main drags, the city was so vacant that we could be in any one of dozens of abandoned warehouses or factories. And nobody would ever find us.
I'd heard about kids who'd vanished from the streets never to be seen again. I was sure they weren't stories with happy endings.
"What's the last thing you remember?" I asked. "Who brought you here? Are you chained, too?"
"I don't know who brought me here. And, yeah, I'm locked up real tight."
"Who would do this?" My voice caught on the words.
"Try to relax."
"Doesn't sound like it to me."
I banged the back of my head lightly against the metal wall and hugged my knees in close to my chest. "You sound relaxed enough for the both of us."
"What can I say? So far this is a lot better than where I was scheduled to go in a few days."
"Oh? And where's that?"
He was silent for a moment. "You really want to know?"
Not really. I didn't care. "Sure."
There was another lengthy pause. "Saradone."
My blood ran cold. Saradone was the maximum security prison just outside the city limits. Only the worst criminals were sent there; some for life, most for death. Horrible people who'd done horrible things. Luckily, they didn't put girls who stole shoes there yet.
He laughed at my answering silence. "Guess you've heard of it."
I was in the same room with somebody bound for Sara-doneso that meant he was dangerous. Criminally dangerous. Panic returned to swirl through me, constricting my chest, my breath.
Both of us were chained. What was this? What was going on?
A cold trickle of sweat slid down my back.
"Why were you going there?" I tried to make the question sound flippant, as if I was making conversation about the weather.
"My days at St. Augustine's end in a couple days when I turn eighteen."
St. Augustine's. That name I also knew. It was a juvenile detention hall located on the west side of the city. If I ever got arrested, that might be where I ended up.
I'd heard that it was hell.
I hesitated to ask, but couldn't help myself. "What were you at St. Augustine's for?"
"Murder," he answered simply.
"Oh." My stomach churned as I tested the chains again. They were too strong. I wasn't going anywhere. "Was it self-defense?"
"No." There was a sharp edge to his voice now. "But what do you care?"
But I did. Of course, I did. I cared because I was trapped in this room with an admitted murdererstuck in the dark with him, just as I'd been when my family was murdered.
Maybe I was just having a really bad dream. Maybe I'd fallen and hit my head in the mall and was passed out cold in front of the understaffed burger place in the food court. Maybe some gorgeous rich kid would find me. He'd fall instantly in love with me, kiss me like Prince Charming did with Snow White, wake me from my deep sleep, and we'd ride away into the sunset, away from my past and into a bright, exciting future, just the two of us.
I blinked against the darkness.
No, I was awake. Definitely awake.
"You're quiet all of a sudden," Rogan said. "Don't want to talk anymore?"
"Why not? Because you're scared of me now?" Pretty much, but I wasn't going to let him know that if I could help it.
"No. Mostly because I've decided that you don't know anything that can help me."
"Doesn't mean you have to be rude."
"Rude?" I felt a flare of anger and then settled back, trying to remain calm. My ass hurt from sitting on the hard metal floor so I shifted to cross my legs. "Yeah, I'm so rude. Sorry about that. I guess you've been treated so nice at St. Augustine's that my behavior's a real shocker. Besides, sounds to me like you deserve rude. Or worse."
He was silent so long that I felt even more uncomfortable than I had been to start with.
"And are you so innocent if you're here with me right now?" His words were clipped, sounding as if I'd struck a nerve. "What did you say your name was.Kerry?"
"Kira," I corrected. What a dick this guy was. "I'm not innocent, but I know I won't end up at Saradone."
"Don't be so sure."
I guess I could thank this jerk for keeping my mind off my fear of the dark. He was getting me angry enough that fear had moved a couple notches down the list.
I chewed my bottom lip. "I haven't murdered anybody."
"Yeah, we'll see about that."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"They've got you now. They'll make you do whatever they want you to do, and don't kid yourself. You'll do it."
"They? Who are they?" Rogan went silent.
My heart pounded in my ears. "You can't just say something like that and not say anything else. Who are they?"
"The ones who put you here. Who put me here."
"I thought you said you didn't know who put you here?"
"I have an idea."
"Want to share?"
"Maybe not. You're not all that nice." It sounded as if he was smiling now. Was he mocking me? "I'm not all that nice?" I repeated.
"Is this a surprise to you? Do you normally charm the pants off the boys you meet? Because you're failing big-time with me."
"Who put us in here?" I said it flatly. I wanted him to realize I wasn't joking around. If he didn't tell me, then I was going to scream and keep screaming until theywhoever they weredragged me out of there.
"They gave me a choice," he said after a moment. "Go to prison for the rest of my life, or come with them and play their sick little game. At least here I might have a chance. A small one, but a chance. As soon as I agreed, they knocked me out.
And then I woke up a few minutes ago to have this fascinating discussion with you. And and I think they did something to me when I was unconscious. To my shoulder. I'm hurt pretty badly, but I'm not sure how. Or why. Probably to slow me down." He snorted. "Playing fair isn't exactly their style."
"I didn't agree to this." I pulled at the chain until my wrist felt raw. "I want to leave."
"I'm sure they'll let you. Just like that. Sure."
"You said they gave you a choice. Why didn't they give me one?"
"I have no idea." He paused. "You said your mother was dead?"
"And the rest of your family?"
"All dead." My voice broke as I said it.
Silence again. "So you're on your own."
"When I have to be." He didn't deserve more of an answer than that.
I'd been on my own for the past two years, since I was fourteen. Before that, I was safe and relatively happy and free to do what I wanted with the love of my family to support me. But once they were gone, I had nothing.
The courts had wanted to put me into foster care, but I'd run instead. A friend of mine had gone into foster care a few years ago, and I never heard from her again. Not even an email.
"Why would they pick you," Rogan said, but it sounded more like he was talking to himself than to me, "other than the fact that you have no family? What did you do?"
I hissed out a sigh of exasperation. "At the risk of sounding like I'm repeating myself, who are they?"
"You haven't murdered before so that's out. Are you." He paused and then laughed softly. "Of course. You're a thief, aren't you?"
I let the darkness answer the question for me.
"A female thief without a family. Perfect." He let out a long, shuddery breath. "Well, thief-girl, I have to admit that I'm not feeling so great over here. Whatever they did to me I don't think they'll have to worry about me finishing off my sentence. An eye for an eye and all that."
I licked my dry lips. "You think you're dying."
"Feels like it."
"Why do you sound so calm?"
"Because I'm not an idiot. There's no escape. We're both going to die."
"Shut up. There's a way out, I know there is."
Just as I said it, light flooded the room, blinding me. Ironic. Didn't these people believe in happy mediums?
I rubbed my eyes, which had started to water at the unexpected light. I blinked at the room as my vision slowly came into focus.
I sat against the wall in an entirely silver room. Floors, ceiling, walls, all made from smooth, cold metal. I'd never seen anything like it. The silver metal band that circled my wrist was attached to a silver chain secured to the wall. It was all very bland, very clinical, clean and pristine.
My gaze moved to the other side of the room and locked with that of the most dangerous-looking boy I'd ever seen in my life.
He stared back at me with a half smirk. His hair, plastered across his forehead, was dark and unkempt. He wore a shirt that might have once been white but was now torn and dirty.
A dark and angry red stain near his left shoulder stood out as the only color in the room. No, scratch that. His eyes. They were blue-greenthe color of a tropical ocean and surprisingly jarring in their intensity.
There was a scar on his face that ran from the top of his left eye down to his cheek like an angry exclamation point. It was still reddish, as if it had healed recently. It didn't do much to take away from his lookswhich were incredible. Clean him up and I'd have to guess he'd be painfully handsome.
He wore faded jeans, also stained and dirty, and scuffed black boots with untied laces. A silver shackle led from his right wrist to the chain to the wall behind him.
Despite the good looks beneath the grime, he looked like a murderer. Like trouble. Like nobody I wanted to be trapped in a room with now or anytime soon. I was almost sorry that the lights had come on.