I could barely move my leg because it was so stiff. When I did try to move it, it just bled more and hurt beyond imagination. So I just sat against the wall. Somebody had come and wrapped a new piece of cloth tightly around it but nothing else. I guess they didn’t care if I ever walked again, they just didn’t want me to bleed to death yet.
There was a small window near the top of my room, and I could still hear the rain pounding down outside. It pattered the ground in a way that always seemed to make me tired. Hours went by at a grueling pace, and not having a watch only made it worse. A single hour might have passed when I thought it had been three. There was no way of knowing, especially without the sun.
I hadn’t seen Devon again since he brought me here. I had thought—and maybe hoped—he would come back, but never did.
The only thing that kept me happy was the fact they still hadn’t found West. I hadn’t seen Dersa again either, which was another good thing. I never wanted to see that man ever again. The guards outside my doors probably had orders to keep him away, but it also meant he was out looking for West. Which was something I also didn’t want.
When evening finally came, after my long and painful day, the guards opened my door again. Their bodies were silhouetted against the hall light making them look bigger than they really were. It wasn’t a welcoming sight to say the least.
“Mr. Kothem would like to speak with you,” one of them said, giving me a half smile—not a friendly one. They moved into my room and towered over me like hulking giants.
They pulled me up from my place in the corner and tied my hands again behind my back. They were purposely rough as the rope was tightened around them, causing me to clench my jaw. They dragged me between them down the halls. Every moment was a knife in my knee and by the time it was over, my eyes were stinging with tears.
We entered another small, dimly lit room and they set me down in a chair that was placed in front of a desk with the same older man behind it, who I assumed was Mr. Kothem. The same man who stopped Dersa from going to far with his knife. My guards stood on either side of me while Mr. Kothem sat writing like I didn’t exist.
It bothered me beyond reason.
“You may leave us,” he said, not looking up.
“I said leave.” He looked up at the soldier who had spoken. “I don’t think she’s going anywhere, even if she did manage to stand, she isn’t going to do much harm without her hands.”
They left without another word, shutting the door behind them. Mr. Kothem shuffled some more papers, my patience dwindling with every one. My knee was irritated by the way it was bent but I wasn’t able to move it. It was like an itch that couldn’t be scratched, except it hurt—a constant blinding pain.
“I need to know if you have any idea where he might be.” He finally glanced up from his oh-so-important papers.
Did he really think I would tell him? He asked the question like I would without a doubt. Well, he was in for some disappointment.
“You know I won’t tell you that, even if I did know.”
He shrugged that it wasn’t a big deal. “I figured you wouldn’t, but I had to try, didn’t I?” He gave me a smile but it was fake. When he saw that I wasn’t going to return the gesture he dropped it. “What’s your name?”
I didn’t answer.
“You’re not in any position to not answer my questions,” he said. “If you would prefer Dersa to be the one asking the questions, that won’t be a problem. I’m sure he would be more than happy to continue where he left off. But I, on the other hand, will just kill you. I don’t have much reason to keep you alive if you won’t answer questions. Unless there’s a chance that he will come for you but even if he does, he won’t get those these doors alive.”
“He won’t come after me,” I heard myself say.
Mr. Kothem sighed as he pull a drawer open and placed a pistol on top of his desk, leaving it there between us.
“Just answer my question,” he said. He fingered the trigger while it rested on the wood, pointing towards me. His eyes were cold as they stared into mine. “What is your name?”
My heart started to race. I could very well die in this room. He played with the trigger again, and a bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face. My knee was aching and causing my head to throb, making me extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t want to give in, but what was the harm in telling him my name? My name had nothing to do with the whereabouts of West. And maybe it would keep me alive a little while longer.
“Reese,” I answered, gritting through my teeth. “My name is Reese.”
He smiled again and took his hand away from the weapon.
“That’s better.” Mr. Kothem took a drink of his coffee and took his sweet time doing it. “Were you the one who killed those four men in the clearing the day he escaped?”
I ground my teeth, not wanting to answer his questions. I saw his eyes drift towards the gun again and my heart pounded, but it wasn’t a normal steady beat. I was feeling weak, not mentally weak, but physically weak. I was feeling cold, but there was sweat rolling down my face. He had more power over me than I would have thought.
I felt ashamed of myself.
“No,” I said, “only two.”
He was silent for a while, just staring me down. “Where were you headed before you were separated from him?”
This was a question I would not answer. If West did go on without me, he would be in even more danger if I told the army which direction to look.
So I lifted my head, looking him in the eye. “You know I won’t answer that.”
“But you do know . . . don’t you?” He smiled again. His eyes drifted down to his papers, ignoring me once again. “You know, you don’t have to die. I have people here that could look after your knee, to make it possible for you to even walk again.”
His mouth pressed into a thin line, hating my stubbornness. “Well, I can see you aren’t up for answering questions tonight. Perhaps you will be in a few days after you’ve had no food.” He looked at the door. “You may come in now.”
The guards returned and Mr. Kothem smiled again.
“Please return Reese, to her room.”
They picked me up from the chair and started to leave when Mr. Kothem held up his hand. “And Adams, make sure you make her feel welcome before the day is over.” He never looked at me again as we left, and the guards smiled at his command.
Only minutes later the two soldiers threw me into my room and shut the door behind them. I landed on the hard concrete and just laid there, heaving in the cold air that seared my lungs. My hands strained against the rope holding them together as the soldiers came closer, but it was no use. I could do anything to stop them.
Their boots crashed into my ribs and I couldn’t breathe. A fist hit my jaw, breaking skin. I closed my eyes as they had their fill and my body was shaking when it was over. Every breath made the pain worse, leaving me nearly breathless.
But when I thought it was over, a large hand curled around my throat and lifted me from the ground, slamming me into the wall behind me. I was able to breath but just barely. The rope around my wrists was too tight but I strained against it anyway, just hoping to break free from this moment.
Adams came closer, putting his mouth near my ear, whispering, “We’ll be back later.”
The other man released me and I fell to the ground, my hands still tied behind me as they left the room. The sun was almost down and the room was quickly darkening. My tears ran freely now and I feel asleep only minutes later, exhausted from what had just happened.
It was the only thing that didn’t hurt.
✢ ✢ ✢
Only hours later I woke and it felt like my room had turned into a freezer. I thought my eyes were playing tricks with me when there was no frost clinging to the window, but the sweat on my forehead told me it wasn’t cold—just that my health was taking a downward turn for the worst. I laid on the concrete floor drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the night, my whole body was constantly trembling under my thin sweatshirt. Even when I tried to stay still, it wouldn’t stop. It was something uncontrollable.
Then I started to dream.
The pain from my knee was just in the back of my mind, and my bruised ribs only ached uncomfortably as I breathed. I went from one dream to another. Intertwining with one another like reruns on television.
They all had one thing in common.
The dreams were practically all the memories I had of him, replaying in my mind, over and over. His eyes smiling at me, and his crooked grin under his short wavy hair. Some were different, memories that I didn’t recognize, but West was in every one, as same as the rest. But there was always this space between us. I could never get close to him no matter how hard I tried. It was like running against the tide; never making any progress, and always being pulled away.
I hated it. I wanted to be close to him, but something always seemed to be in the way. My feelings for West were something new, something I didn’t accept until now. I barely knew him but my stomach did somersaults every time I was near him. Every time I thought of him.
I could no longer ignore the obvious.
Then I started having new dreams, but they were more like nightmares. I was on the verge of sleep but never falling under. Those dreams in which in it’s impossible to tell whether they’re actual dreams or reality. Lightning flashed against the walls, bringing me out of each horror. My hands unconsciously strained against their bonds, almost hoping for escape.
The dreams were everything I feared for; West’s blood always on my hands around every corner. I wanted to block them out of my mind, but I no longer had control over my thoughts. They just kept coming, one after another. Every time I woke, I had to remind myself they weren’t real. Though it became harder as the night wore on, the fever becoming worse with every hour.
Before long, I had another dream, but this time it wasn’t a nightmare.
It was the opposite.
It felt so real I could have sworn it was, but with my fever still raging throughout my shaking body it was impossible to tell. It felt like my pervious dreams, but it was taking place within the room. My vision blurred in and out as I saw West standing over me, his eyes shining from the lightning coming through my window. His face full of distress and worry, his dark hair wet with rain, dripping down the sides of his face.
I could see it all so clearly.
His hand came down and touched my cheek, and right then, I had doubts that it was an actual dream. But he couldn’t be here. He was in the woods, running from the people who wanted to catch him. My mind was so foggy and slow I couldn’t think straight. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again he was gone.
I was alone again, just as I always was.
It was one of those dreams where you wanted it to be true so badly, but when you wake up you find out that it wasn’t, you almost feel like crying.
My eyes were so heavy that I couldn’t keep them open. The chill from the rain should’ve kept me awake, but I wasn’t sure if anything could right then. I was going to fall asleep whether I wanted to or not. It was blackness from there out.
I woke again not knowing how long I had been under. I was still lying in my corner, shivering with my eyes half closed when I saw movement again. It felt exactly like my previous dream with West, almost too real to be a dream. He was there again. This time with a backpack around his shoulders and his blue eyes bright every time the lightning flashed.
My eyes had trouble focusing, but as he touched my forehead I knew it wasn’t a dream after all. He had really come for me. His mouth moved, but I heard it as if I was far away, like from the other end of a long tunnel.
“Reese?” His hand came to my face again and it was warm against my clammy skin. So real and alive.
I forced my voice to work, coming out as a whisper. “West—”
He put his finger on my lips to keep me from talking. “It was my choice, not yours. Sound familiar?” he asked with a sad, crooked smile.
It did sound familiar. It was the same thing I had said to him when he had told me I could leave and travel alone. I was so relieved he was here. To see him again made me feel lighter inside, in two senses.
West didn’t waste anytime arguing with me and gently leaned me up against the wall, being careful of my knee, and produced a knife to cut the rope around my wrists. Then he lifted me up, cradling me in his arms so my head was leaning against his shoulder. I felt like dead weight; all of my muscles so heavy and useless.
With his arms wrapped under me, I couldn’t help but think we had never been that close before. The heat from his body lessened my shivering, but I could feel myself being dragged out of consciousness again. I didn’t want to fall asleep. I didn’t want to be away from him any longer than I already had been.
I fought with myself to stay awake.
We were going through the factory, the shapes blurring with fever as he walked on. It was darker than it previously was, at least of what I remembered of it. Lightning flashed through the windows and I could still hear the rain pounding down on the metal roof. But there were no people. All the rooms were vacant and quiet.
Light was streaming in from an open door somewhere ahead, and I could barely make out a shape of a person leaning against the frame. I squinted to focus my eyes but it didn’t help. The fever was putting me to sleep again and I could do nothing to stop it. My eyelids became heavy and my vision faded as I closed my eyes. I didn’t fall asleep though, so I was able to hear everything around me.
West slowed as we approached the doorway and he asked, “Is everything clear?”
“Yes, but not for long. You don’t have much time,” another voice answered.
“Thank you, Devon. You have no idea . . .” West hesitated.
“I wouldn’t have been to live with myself if I hadn’t, little brother.”
West shifted his weight to get a better hold of me, and then rain drops were hitting my face as he stepped outside. I couldn’t hear anything beyond the rain, and I was glad of it. He wouldn’t have been able to defend himself if somebody spotted us. I wasn’t even curious of how he was able to get me out, all I wanted was to disappear from that place.
I heard the creak of a door and West laid me across a long seat. It felt so wonderful to lay on something soft for a change; something not cold and hard. The other door creaked open, but West never climbed in. His absence was followed by a grunt and something heavy dropping to the wet ground.
My eyes opened, fighting the inevitable sleep, and looked out the empty door, where West should’ve been. It was dark and still raining, but I was able to see what was happening when the lightning flashed. West was struggling to stand to his feet as a man above him knocked him down with a punch to his jaw. Anger and fear overcame me; I wasn’t going to let them take him away. Not now. Not after just getting him back.
“Come on, West!” the man yelled at him over the thunder and rain. “Is that all you got?”
The man above West laughed and kicked him in the stomach. As his head jerked back from the blow, beads of water flung from his hair, disappearing with the rest of the rain. With adrenaline now pounding through me, overriding my fever, it was like I was seeing everything so clearly.
It brought me back to reality. Seeing West in trouble brought back my senses for a short while, overwhelming me with emotions. I sat up and reached for my door but it was already opened, which didn’t make any sense. West had closed it.
My gaze drifted up. A man was there blocking my way, his hulking form leaving no room for escape. In a flash he grabbed my throat with his bear-sized hand, lifting me out of the truck and slamming me onto the pavement below.
The air rushed from lungs as my back hit the ground hard, and light flashed behind my eyes. I blinked the rain out of my eyes, trying to see. I could hear West and the other man still fighting on the other side of the truck, but I couldn’t see who was winning. I was afraid for him, afraid of something happening to him.
The man standing above came down at me, holding me to the ground as he put his hand around my throat again. My air was cut off as his hand tightened, feeling as if he was crushing everything inside. I panicked and tried to push him away, but I didn’t have the strength. My lungs burned for air and I struggled harder, my vision starting to blur. I couldn’t think straight.
It was all happening too quickly.
Then lightning flashed, and my mind refocused as I saw my only way out of this. I stopped struggling—going against every fiber within me—and reached my right hand as far as it would go. And it was just enough. My fingers felt the cold metal of his gun holstered at his hip and I pulled it out. As soon as it was free my finger pulled the trigger, and he fell backwards into the night.
I gasped for air the moment his hand dropped away.
“REESE!” It was West’s voice, but it was wrong. It was tight and full of anger; something I had never heard coming from him.
I coughed as my lungs filled with life again, and the burning slowly disappeared as the fresh air rushed into them. The need to call back to West was strong, but I didn’t think I was able to. My throat still hurt as I breathed and my body barely had the strength for me to sit up. Everything was shaking.
I could still hear them fighting on the other side of the truck, and I knew he needed help. I pushed myself up but my arms were so weak I could barely manage. They shook under my weight and it left me breathless by the time I was finally standing, all my weight on one leg. My fingers were still holding tightly onto the gun as I leaned against the truck for support. I blinked away my spinning vision, trying to see straight so I wouldn’t collapse onto the pavement below.
My left leg was numb and useless, so I was forced to use the truck to steady myself as I dragged myself slowly forward. The sounds from the fight fueled me to keep going. I had too. It wasn’t an option at that point, even though my knee was screaming for me to stop. I had to use any strength I had left within me. As I came around to the other side of the truck, my anger rose even more.
West on the ground. His forearm was bleeding as he tried to push himself up. Rain dripped from his hair, outlining his face as it twisted in pain. Standing over him was the other man, holding the knife at his side with blood dripping from the end, ready to attack him again.
“You shouldn’t have done what you did, West. It ruined us.” He shook his head and stepped closer, not yet seeing me. “And you even had the guts to show your face again. You shouldn’t have come back, you might’ve actually had a chance to survive.”
West unclenched his jaw and finally made it to his feet, wincing as he did so. “There’s no point in surviving if you aren’t with the people you care about.”
“Well, it’s too late for that, isn’t it?” The man smiled and tightening his hold on the knife in his hand, towering over West who seemed to be at least a foot shorter.
But I wasn’t going to let the man hurt him again. I was already angry for him trying to take West away from me. He had no idea what he had coming; no idea who he was messing with.
He had picked the wrong girl to play with.
My vision blurred a little as I raised the gun, the pain from my knee making it harder and harder. As lightning flashed again, outlining objects sharply against the black, I was able to see him more clearly.
I gently squeezed the trigger, making sure that I didn’t miss, and the loud crack brought a sharp ringing to my ears. I shot him so close range that it knocked him off his feet, and his body hit the concrete hard, just like his partner had only a minute before.
It was over.
I looked at West and tried to smile.
But now that the danger was gone, my energy went with it. My legs buckled and I sank to the ground, unable to stand any longer. My head would have hit the concrete, but West was there before it could happen and picked me up, despite his own injures. My arms clung around his neck, afraid of letting him go.
West quickly walked around the truck again, not waiting around to encounter anymore soldiers that would happen to be out for a stroll. His breathing was abnormally shaky as he laid me down across the seat and covered me with a blanket. He closed the door and those few seconds alone almost had me panicking, but this time he made it inside the truck without mishap.
We were driving away from the scene a minute later, my head laying on the seat as I kept my eyes on his face, not wanting to see anything else but him, afraid this was a dream. His lips were pressed in a thin line, and his eyes were focused on the road.
West was the last thing I saw before blackness fogged my mind.