The Archfiend Artifact

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7

STARR THRIFTS & GIFTS, OBSIDIAN GROVE

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21
5:43 AM

The world was gray with the oncoming dawn when I carefully, silently slipped out the window. The delightfully cool air carried a whiff of the last wildflowers of summer. The gekkering of foxes erupted from somewhere in the distance. The pinkish-orange glow of the street lights did little to scatter the remnants of dark. For a single, fleeting moment, I worried about the return of that ruby-eyed monster and of the ever-watching gaze that I had been under. But out here, none of that mattered. Whenever I came out here, particularly at night, whatever bothered me seemed to just melt away. This little fire escape had been my sanctuary for the last decade. This morning, however, it represented much more than that. This morning, it marked the first step along the road of my new life.

I looked forward to the freedom. I could get a job that actually paid, find a school that would accept me, or maybe enroll in one of those online ones. I could buy my own clothes and food, get the stuff I’ve always dreamed of having, and live where I wanted to. Most importantly, I’d never have to be afraid of coming home ever again. I’d never be beaten or starved or locked up because some despicable woman resented my existence.

I’d finally feel human.

I had just one last thing to do before I left, and my heart raced at the very thought of it.

Quickly reaching through the open window, I grabbed my stuffed backpack. There were a few things I wished I could bring with me but, because agilisi had locked me in my room, I didn’t have access to them. I stuck with what I had, which consisted of a couple shirts, extra socks, my hair brush, and a couple of well-used notebooks. With a final look back at my prison cell and the misery it represented, I shouldered my bag and stepped towards the ladder.

I felt my back pang in protest as I struggled to release the ladder silently. I ignored the pain, unwilling to succumb to any delay.

Within moments, I found myself on the ground and making for the side door of agilisi’s shop. I paused, pressed my ear to the door to listen. Silence greeted me. At last, I unveiled my secret weapon: agilisi’s spare master key ring. With it, I easily got into the shop’s storeroom, where I quickly made for the makeshift office. Half-concealed behind a wall of shelves, in a small corner of the room, sat a secretary desk and an old iron safe. Agilisi never uses a computer, so the top of her desk is always riddled with log books and office things. The desk has a secret that agilisi believes I don’t know about, but I had seen her do it half a dozen times.

I walked right up to it and shoved everything off the top. A satisfied grin spread across my face, and I fought the urge to upend everything in the store room. I had to remind myself this morning wasn’t about revenge. I needed to escape.

A tiny keyhole in the top of the desk gleamed in the dim light. Quickly finding the old bronze key among those on the master ring, I jammed it into the lock. I heard a soft click, and pulled up on the key. The cubicle hidden inside the desk measured roughly half the size of a shoe box. Two things were kept in it: a sizable roll of dollar bills held together with a rubber band and a single Polaroid.

Smiling, I pulled the photo from the box. Years had passed since I had last seen it. It showed a happy family at the beach, posing behind an enormous sand castle. The father had long raven hair and skin like bronzed caramel. The mother had a fairer complexion and eyes of emerald green. Between them, a dark-haired girl in a pink swimsuit made a face at the camera.

I only vaguely remembered that day. We had been on vacation in Florida. The three of us spent the entire morning building that castle, and my dad had paid a guy five bucks to take our picture with it. We flew back to Mabon City later that afternoon. It was the last time we were together.

The twentieth of October, 1999.

I wiped the tears from my eyes, tucked the picture safely between the pages of one of my notebooks. Now. Now I am ready to leave this nightmarish place behind me.

As I returned the notebook to my bag, I considered taking the money as well. I knew I shouldn’t, but if I really wanted to escape agilisi, I’d need to get away as fast as I could. That would be impossible without money. It would be a necessary evil to ensure not just my escape, but my very survival.

I seized the money, jammed it into the side pocket of my bag. I’ll consider it my wages for all the years I slaved away in her shop. Then I went to the rear door of the back room and removed the car keys from the secret compartment in the frame. With that, I walked out of the side door for the last time.

Sticking to the shadows, I headed away from Main Avenue, to the back of the store and the parked Taurus. Like the cash, I needed it. Twenty miles separated Obsidian Grove and Mabon City; much too far to walk. And the bus wouldn’t be here for another two hours. I had to get out of here now. The money had changed my plans slightly. I had originally intended on taking the car and driving until it broke down. Now I had a much better alternative.

I’d take the car and leave it parked somewhere downtown before going to the train station. When agilisi reported the car stolen and her “precious” granddaughter missing, the cops would find it but not me. I’d already be on a train heading somewhere far, far away from this nightmare. I could decide where I‘d go later. Right now, I just needed to get out of here.

I unlocked the driver’s door and slipped inside. My hands were shaking as I stuck the key in the ignition. I had to tell myself again and again that I could do this. I could drive. I needed to drive. Then I stuck the shifter on D and slowly let off the brake. The first few feet were exhilarating, and I almost forgot that I had to turn to get out of the parking space. My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel as I crept the car up to the cross street. My hands were clammy and still shaking, but I somehow managed to pull onto Main Avenue without hitting anything. A huge smile lit my face as I went past the convenience store. Before I knew it, I was cruising down the highway toward Mabon City, and my smile widened as Obsidian Grove grew ever smaller in the rear view mirror.

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