In Which I Learn Vic's Story
She told me everything after that.
“I’d always known about my dad’s job with the Defenders. I knew who they were, and what they did, and I was fascinated by it. Every chance I could get, I snuck into the containment center -- with him or without him -- and took a look around. He was mostly okay with this for a while, until I started to ‘fraternize’ with the prisoners.
“See, there was this one boy named Riley, two years older than me, who was in and out of solcon for some pretty serious rage issues. I started talking to him one day (honestly, I don’t even remember how or about what), and that day became another, and another, and another. We became friends, and soon I was coming around just to see him. It wasn’t an average friendship, clearly, since we were talking from opposite sides of metal bars, but we made it work.
“After a while, though, Dad became very concerned. Concerned enough, as a matter of fact, to get mad at me over it. ‘Victoria,’ he said, ‘I won’t have you hanging around with this kind of people. It’s just wrong. Don’t you even know what I do?’ Geez. Anyway, he straight-up forbid me to come back to the center after that, but if you think that’s gonna stop a teenage kid, well, you’ve clearly never met one of those. Plus, I was quite the ingenious middle schooler. I found ways in, and I kept talking to Riley. We were...really close.” She blushed when she said that.
“Riley’s rage issues just kept getting worse. After a while, they moved him to SolCon (that’s solitary confinement, by the way, in case you didn’t know) permanently, making it really hard for me to see him. Night after night after night I tried to find a way in, and my parents caught on.
“‘I’m worried about her, Ed,’ my mom said.
“‘You know what, I think it’ll be fine for now. Now, I don’t like it any more than you do, Jean, but at least she hasn’t been hurt, and that’s more than you can say for what a lot of kids her age do.’ So that was that.
“The night I finally got in was the worst possible night I could have: a half-moon night. Bless me, but I had no idea about the half-moons then. I didn’t pay attention to anything Riley had actually told me about lycans, and was just going off what I knew from books. Bad idea, Victoria. There was a maintenance hallway I knew of that led to his cell, and I had a stolen key card that I used to get inside (don’t ask how I stole a key card, that’s another story). I slipped in, finding it unsettlingly empty.
“I called his name a couple times. ‘Riley? Riley?’ No one answered. I was a little scared at this point, but for him, not for me. ‘Riley? Where are you?’ Then, suddenly, I got the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone in the room. No was answering my calls, but there was something or someone in there with me. I glanced around, ready to back out, and when I saw the hulking shadow in the corner of the room, when I heard the noise it made, I understood.
“But by then it was too late to run.
“I mean, I did run. But it was fruitless. I freaked out so badly, I dropped the key card. It was impossible to find it in the darkness, and anyway, the thing was after me. Voices were screaming from somewhere outside, and I vaguely remembered talk of one-way windows in the SolCon rooms. Please God let there be someone there, I prayed. Please let them see me! Never had I experienced fear like this; I was going to die, and was helpless to stop it. I started calling his name again, this time desperate, begging any part of him that could hear to leave me alone. ‘Riley! Riley, stop!’
“And you know what? It, he, did, for a moment. He stopped. I was paralyzed by fear, just staring into his eyes. My friend was still in there, I knew it. It was his eyes I saw, not the eyes of some creature.
“Then the shouting started up again, someone started banging on the door, and he lost it. He lunged at the door, raking his claws against the metal, and I got caught between it. I should never have tried to fight him, but what else is a freaked-out kid going to do?” Vic’s voice caught, but she went on.
“I still remember it all: the horrible, horrible sound of his claws on the door, the feeling of knives tearing my skin, I remember smelling my own blood, thinking this was it and oh dear God I was truly about to die and why didn’t someone stop it, and you might think I’m crazy, but I thought about him. What were they going to do to him if he killed me? I’m sorry, Riley, I thought, I’m so sorry....
“The light from the door being thrown open made me think I must be dead, this must be the bright light everyone talks about. Then I saw my father’s face, felt strong hands carrying me out and slamming the door. Out of everything, it’s the look on Dad’s face that will haunt me forever. He was disappointed. Think about it! His daughter’s life had just been saved, and he was disappointed in me. ‘Oh, Victoria,’ he said, ‘not you. Tell me they didn’t get you.’
“And I apologized! God, why did I apologize to him? But I did, ‘Dad,’ I said through my tears, ‘I’m sorry.’ Everything was black after that. I woke up in a hospital bed, with my shoulder and a bit of my collar and chest stitched up, and yes, a stinging sensation in one hand. I looked down at my palm, and there was a white slash mark, where I knew I’d never been injured. That, I remembered Riley talking about. ‘It’s a mark, Vic. They fade overtime, but all lycans have them, for a while at least.’ I wanted to throw up, I wanted to cry, and my injuries had nothing to do with it. You’re one of them now, Vic, I thought, and you know what people like Dad do to them! Yes, I did. But his own daughter? Would he go that far?
“He would. He absolutely would. After leaving the hospital, we didn’t talk about the attack. I tried to hide my condition for a while, even to the point of denying it. Maybe it didn’t work, maybe I wasn’t going to change after all. I don’t remember exactly the day I first realized it, but one memory that stands out: see, I was terrible at PE, just awful at it. I was the worst, and I couldn’t run to save my life, probably literally. But there came one day in school where we had to run a mile, and I just breezed through it. I felt strong, unbelievably strong, and when I finished, I was barely out of breath.
“I should have been happy, but my stomach sank. That was when I knew.
“Our gym teacher came up to me. ‘Vic,’ she said, ‘that was fantastic. I’ve never seen you run like that.’
“I panicked. ‘Please don’t tell anyone.’
“She got confused. ‘Why?’
“‘Just don’t, okay? Just give me the same bad grade I had before. Please, my parents can’t find out about any of this.’
“Of course, she didn’t do that, because apparently altering grades would get her fired or something. So, Dad saw how much stronger I was getting, and that’s when everything fell apart. Dad -- Mom, too, but she didn’t say much -- forced me to sit down and talk about it. ‘Victoria,’ he said, ‘you know I’m not okay with this. I never will be, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. What’s done is done.’
“‘So then what are we having this conversation for?’”
“‘Because,’ he said, ‘we’re going to fix this.’ My mom interrupted him there. She protested, said there was no way she was going to let him take her daughter to ‘that place.’ I joined in, told him there was absolutely no way I was going to ‘that place.’ Dad blew his top. ‘You will! You’re one of them now, and you belong with them!’ It turned into a fight the likes of which I haven’t seen before or since. Yelling and cursing on both sides, Mom started crying, finally I snatched the vase from our living room table and hurled it at the wall. The sound of it shattering made everyone go quiet, staring at me. I caught my reflection in the window, and saw that, for the first time, I was changing. I didn’t look human anymore. In fear and in anger, I stormed out of the house, slamming the glass door behind me. It cracked, almost completely in two, from top to bottom.
“It was two nights before the full moon that they finally took me to the center. When we arrived, I turned to him and I said, ‘You are not my father anymore. I will not be your daughter.’
“‘Vic,’ he said, ‘you don’t mean that.’
“‘I do. It’s like you said...I belong with them now.’
“I spent the afternoon before pacing around in a cell, holding onto my dog tags. They belonged to my granddad, a soldier in Korea, and every time I looked at them, they reminded me of the words he said when he gave them to me, right before he died. ‘Be brave, Victoria,’ he said. ‘Caleb Castle never ran from anything, and neither should his granddaughter. No matter what happens, I want you to be brave.’ So I tried to be brave, as brave as I could, but I was shaking. I was terribly scared, both of Changing and the alternative.
“They came for me as the sun started to set, took me to a science room and strapped me into a dentist-chair looking contraption. (To this day, I can’t go to the dentist’s.) This was when the fear escalated into full-on panic. ‘Dad,’ I begged, ‘Dad, please don’t make me do this.’
“‘I’m sorry, Victoria, sweetheart,’ he said. ‘I don’t like it either, but it’s better than the alternative.’
“I tried to protest that actually, it wasn’t, but he didn’t listen. Then I heard what the doctors said, when he told them to go ahead, and I realized: they had no idea what this would do. ‘She’s too young,’ they said, ‘too fragile. We don’t know what it’ll do. The effects could be...very dangerous.’ The drugs they were administering could kill me, or mess me up forever, and he didn’t seem to care. In the midst of my panicked state, a needle sank into my arm, and I froze. Nothing happened for a second, and then it was fire shooting through my veins. The pain was so extreme it blocked out any other thought I had, blocked out vision and all my other senses. I started shaking, groaning, someone stuck a plastic thing between my teeth so I wouldn’t bite through my tongue. I heard people yelling stop, stop, it’s too much, we have to stop this.
“I blacked out, sedated, and woke up back in a cell in the middle of the morning. Dad came to collect me, ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘we’re going home.’ He dropped me at home, saying I needed to sleep. I didn’t sleep. As soon as he left again, I got up, packed a bag, took all the money I had, and left the house. I left a note, but after all these years, I don’t remember what it said. I went to the bus stop, payed for a ticket to Memphis, and that was it. I ran away, and never looked back. After Memphis, after crossing into Arkansas on foot, I hitchhiked, hid in truck beds, lived off convenience store food, basically did anything I had to in order to survive. But, a hundred dollars and some stolen rides can only get you so far, and eventually, I stumbled into a late-night coffeehouse in a rinky-dink town in mid-Arkansas named Three Brothers.
“A man, dressed in a cameo jacket, walked up to me at the counter. ‘You okay?’ he asked.
“I told him the truth, because screw it, they were probably going to find me anyway. ‘I ran away.‘
“‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’
“‘Oh, I think I would. You can trust me.’
“‘You don’t even know my name, and I don’t know yours. You’re probably a creep.’
“‘Which is something a creep would say.’
“He laughed, and then, in a low voice, he said, ‘I saw your hand.’ He opened his own hand, showing me the faded, but still visible, mark. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t help myself -- I opened up to Tom, about everything, and from there I found my home.”