Consciousness came slowly this morning for Phoenyx Blake. Blurry, dreamy images flashed in her reluctantly waking mind—images that didn’t make sense. She had vague memories of being carried, as if over a strong man’s shoulder. Did I really have that much to drink last night? Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember much at all of the night before. Her head was aching fiercely, an incentive to stay asleep as long as she could. However, her aching back made it too difficult to sleep any longer.
She opened her eyes, the fuzzy world coming more into focus with each blink.
She didn’t expect what she saw. There was a bright florescent light overhead—attached to a dark gray cement ceiling—creating an illusion of darkness despite the light. As her eyes wandered, she saw thick metal rods descending from the ceiling to one side of her. Her other senses came into focus, making her aware of the scents of dust and mildew, and of the frigid chill that clung to her bare arms and rose prickly goosebumps. Fear suddenly struck her as she realized she was in some kind of jail cell.
She sat up quickly, her hands rushing to her head to fight the dizziness her quick movement caused.
“You’re awake,” a soft female voice said next to her.
Phoenyx removed her hands to see a girl about her age sitting in the corner of the cell to her right. Her arms were wrapped around her knees.
“I tried to wake you earlier but you were out cold,” the girl said in a timid voice.
Phoenyx took a moment to scrutinize the girl. Her long, curly brown hair was the color of tree bark fresh off an oak tree. Her large eyes were very green, like fresh spring grass. Her small, round and sweetly pretty face was scrunched by worry at the moment and streaked with pale lines as though she had been crying. She was wearing jeans, a plain white T-shirt, and gray tennis shoes.
“Wh…where are we?” Phoenyx asked, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
She looked around. They were in a small square room, all four walls and the floor the same gray cement as the ceiling. There was a row of iron bars dividing the room, and another perpendicular to that meeting up halfway, creating two small cells, each with a toilet against the wall. They were in the right cell and the left one was empty. Across from the cells was one heavy-looking door. There were no windows in this room. There weren’t even air vents.
A rush of emotions hit her. Claustrophobia because this tiny place had no apparent means of escape; confusion and a sense of violation because she woke in a strange place; and fear for why she was brought here.
“I really don’t know,” the girl said, creasing her brow and sniffling. “It’s pretty obvious this isn’t a legal holding cell. I can’t remember a thing about how I got here but I’m sure this isn’t what being arrested is like—not that I’ve done anything wrong anyway. I have been awake for about,” she paused to look at the watch on her wrist, “three hours and no one has come through that door.”
The girl broke down and cried fresh tears. “I’m sorry.” She wept. “I’m just so scared.”
Shaking, Phoenix stood up and moved to sit beside the weeping girl. She had an overwhelming need to comfort her, despite her own growing anxiety.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Phoenyx asked, as of yet unable to answer that question herself.
The girl wiped away her tears and shook her head. “I hardly remember anything. I guess the last thing I remember is digging in my garden.” The girl sniffed loudly, then looked at Phoenyx. “What about you?”
Phoenyx closed her eyes and tried hard to remember. She went back farther in her memory, deciding to trace events forward rather than backward. She had been accepted into UCLA. She and her mother decided it would be best for her to move to Los Angeles before the school year started so she could get acclimated to the city. She had been in L.A. for two weeks and stayed in an apartment she rented only for the month, expecting to move into the dorms on campus when school started. Since this was her last few weeks of summer, she made good use of her fake ID. Not that she really needed one.
Now she was getting closer. She distinctly remembered going to a bar and flirting with a cute guy who bought her a drink. He asked a lot of strange questions, too personal, so she excused herself and left…walking out of the bar was as far as her memory went before fading to black. She realized what must have happened. The way her head ached and felt so heavy and foggy, this was no hangover—she must have been drugged.
“The last thing I remember is being at this bar,” Phoenyx said. “Some guy was buying me drinks and being kind of creepy, so I walked out. I’m pretty sure he must have slipped something into my drink somehow.”
The girl cringed at the thought, far more concerned now.
Phoenyx searched around in her pockets and came out with her cell phone—which was dead—her fake ID, and a folded up bar napkin. She put the useless phone and ID card on the floor and handed the napkin to the girl.
“Thank you,” the girl said, taking the napkin and blowing her nose. “I’m Lily, Lily Taylor,” she offered. “I would say it’s nice to meet you but, under the circumstances…”
Phoenyx nodded understandingly. “I’m Phoenyx Blake.”
“Phoenix, that’s a clever name,” Lily said, obviously trying to make small talk. “Because of your hair. Like the bird.”
“Actually, I was named after the city in Arizona,” Phoenyx corrected. “My mom grew up there and loved it. A lot of people assume as you did.” She fingered a strand of her straight, chin-length, bright orange hair.
Lily nodded, looking distracted.
“Why do you think we are here?” Lily asked, picking nervously at the napkin. “What do you think he wants with us?”
Phoenyx’s heart jumped into her throat. She attempted to swallow the lump away.
“Whatever it is, it can’t be good,” she said. “We can only hope we are being Punk’d.” She smirked, trying to lighten the very dark mood in the air.
Lily laughed, grateful for the light-hearted suggestion, though neither of them really believed that could be the case.
Phoenyx stood and inspected their prison. The bars were firmly secured to the walls, ceiling, and floor. She moved to the cell door and looked for any flaw in the lock. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the kind of lock that took a regular key, the kind that could be easily picked with a hair pin. It appeared to be card-activated. She grabbed the bars of the door and shook them as hard as she could but the door didn’t give in the slightest.
“You don’t happen to have any Jackie Chan type martial arts training, do you?” Phoenyx asked. “Or happen to be an expert locksmith?”
“I’m afraid not,” Lily said. “I’m just a simple nursing student.”
“Oh, do you go to UCLA, too?” Phoenyx asked.
Lily looked perplexed. “Umm, no. I go to the University of Washington.”
“Oh…so you are in L.A. on vacation?” Phoenyx asked.
As if putting the pieces together simultan-eously, they both shook their heads.
“I was in L.A. and you were in Seattle,” Phoenyx thought aloud. “For whatever reason, we were brought to the same place.”
She sighed and started pacing. “This situation was scary enough when this seemed like a random abduction and when I thought we were still in L.A. We could be anywhere if someone went through all the trouble to cross state lines. The fact that you and I are from completely different states means we weren’t taken at random, right? What could anyone want with us specifically?”
Lily shook her head and put her chin on her knees.
Phoenyx put her head against the bars and let the hoard of fretful thoughts run rampant in her mind. Why would anyone do this? What could anyone possibly want with two simple girls from two different states? They were both pretty, attractive girls. Could they be victims of human trafficking? White hot panic flushed through her veins like a poison at the thought. No, no, don’t get too frantic yet. There were only two of them here. If this was human trafficking, wouldn’t there be more girls? They weren’t harmed in any way. Not that she was an expert on sex trading, but she wouldn’t expect the kind of men who partake in that business to be gentle.
So, what could it be then? Phoenyx never committed even so much as petty theft and, as far as she knew, she hadn’t made any enemies. In fact, making people like her was her special skill. Whenever she wanted something from someone, all she had to do was touch them and they would do anything she asked. That was why she didn’t really need a fake ID to get into bars, she could just brush her hand on the bouncer’s arm and they would let her in without a second thought. The ID just served as insurance.
Insurance…what about ransom? No, that wasn’t likely either. Her mom had very little money. It was only because of her dad’s life insurance that she could afford college. She couldn’t say the same about Lily, but their captors wouldn’t get much for Phoenyx.
She turned around and looked at Lily, who was casually looking at the ID card Phoenyx had left on the floor.
“So, you’re twenty-one huh?” Lily asked, trying to fill the silence. “Is it the big deal everyone makes it out to be?”
Phoenyx smirked coyly. “Actually, that’s a fake ID. I’m only nineteen. Just turned nineteen on June sixth.”
Lily’s brow furrowed and she looked taken aback. “That’s my birthday too.”
Phoenyx shook her head in disbelief. “No way.”
“Yes,” Lily insisted.
She reached in her back pocket and pulled out a small wallet. She removed her ID and handed it to Phoenyx. The plastic card verified that they really did have the same birthday.
“This is too much of a coincidence,” Phoenyx said. “What significance could our birth date have to anyone? This makes absolutely no sense to me.”
She gave the ID back to Lily.
“We have to find some way out of here,” Lily said, sounding more determined than frightened.
Phoenyx thought for a moment.
“Someone has to come in here eventually,” she said.
She sat down beside Lily once more and lowered her voice. “The minute someone opens the cell door, we kick and scratch and bite and do whatever we have to do to—”
She was cut off by the loud clinking sound of the heavy door being unlocked. The two girls shared a quick understanding look, then fixed their eyes to the door. It opened with a rude creak and a large, bulky bald man entered the room.
Of course, he would have to be a huge guy, wouldn’t he? As if they weren’t already up a creek without a paddle.
They stared at him cautiously, waiting. The second he opened the cell door they were prepared to attack him in whatever way possible.
He didn’t go anywhere near the cell door. He regarded them for a moment where he stood. Then, without taking a step closer, he tossed a paper bag at the base of the cell, turned around, and walked out, closing and locking the door once more.
Phoenyx and Lily exchanged surprised, suspicious glances, hesitating before either made a move toward the paper bag. They reached out for it together and looked inside. It contained two bottles of water, two apples, and two small McDonald’s burgers.
“Well, at least we can be sure of one thing,” Phoenyx said.
“What’s that?” Lily asked.
“We’re not dealing with a serial killer. He wouldn’t have fed us if he was just going to kill us.” The statement came out of her mouth like a joke but that scenario was a real possibility.
“I think we know something else, too,” Lily said.
“I assume that wasn’t the guy harassing you in the bar because you didn’t recognize him. If you’re sure the guy from the bar was the one who drugged you, then we know there is more than one person involved in whatever is going on here. That makes any chance of escape much less likely.”
They both sighed heavily and took the burgers out of the bag. The smell of warm, fresh burgers assaulted their nostrils.
“You don’t think they would have tampered with these, do you?” Lily asked. Her stomach growled.
“Considering that we have no idea how long we are going to be in here, I don’t think we have the choice not to eat them,” Phoenyx said. “We either take the risk or starve.”
Lily nodded, then eagerly unwrapped her burger and took a big bite out of it. Phoenyx followed suit and they continued eating in silence.