My clothing was still damp when I awoke early in the morning, exhausted from the late night. I hadn’t changed my outfit, feeling too clean from the midnight shower to pull myself out of it.
I slowly peeled my eyes open, blinking rapidly until I began to get adjusted to the brightness of the blaring sun. My eyes had became so much more sensitive to the piercing sunlight, making it almost impossible to get used to it. I remembered Zacharias telling me they were now suitable for the night, but I hadn’t thought it would slowly begin turning me against the day.
I stilled for a moment, just now acknowledging that he wasn’t beside me in the bed. I wasn’t able to feel the dip from his weight, the soft gasps from his breathing, or his calloused hands reaching out to caress me. But still, I always felt like I was being set up. Carelessly, I whipped my arm facing his side of the bed up into the air before slamming it onto the mattress, thankful when I wasn’t able to feel his abdomen tensing beneath my limb.
I felt safe enough to roll over, and nearly fell asleep again. It was strange not waking up next to Zacharias, or being woken up by him, simply because it had been reluctantly endorsed as routine for so long. Now that there was a small gap in that routine, I felt the need to find the nearest red button and publicize disaster.
But, yet, I enjoyed it—waking up alone. I didn’t have to argue with Zacharias or have him hound me for being apathetic or insensitive to him. I had been allowed some time to myself, even if only to think about the person who was not myself. I wished I could stop thinking about him, but he rented space in my head. Like a bug scavenging and picking my brain, I could not shake him.
Lamentably, after laying there for maybe five seconds, I grew uncomfortable and childishly fidgety. I tried rolling onto my back, thinking maybe it was the position that made me so awkward. But still, I grew uncomfortable and knew that I was just displaying some more bizarre behaviour. I was never content lately, desiring something that seemed unattainable, if not even inexistent.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was rolling onto Zacharias’ side of the bed; the blankets tight like a joint around my body. I laid on my stomach, a stupid little smile on my lips as I burrowed my face into his pillow, inhaling his smell like a creep. Since I was limited to his products I knew I smelt the same way as him, so I didn’t understand why, if I was so crazy to smell him, why I couldn’t just smell my own pillow.
But then I knew it just wasn’t the same. There was something so different about comparing how I smelt to how he smelt. The way Zacharias smelt clung differently to him than it did to me. We released different pheromones, and his appealed to me in a way mine, naturally, could not. I wondered if I smelled as good to him as he did to me. I figured so, since he was so fond of inhaling me.
I wriggled my arms out of the joint-blanket, and found myself tracing the bed sheets he’d curl up with every night, almost able to feel the remnants of his fingertips on the fabric. Despite the absence of his presence, his scent gave the illusion that he was still there; watching me, feeling me, encasing me. It didn’t make me feel as if I was alone.
I let out a deep breath, turning my face to the side as I laid on my side, staring out the window; having to take the time to readjust again. It was another benefit of being alone, however. I could do idiosyncratic things without the fear of judgement or consequence. I was no longer restricted; having to force myself to stop doing the things I ached to do, but knew I shouldn’t.
I laid there for a while, just absorbing and inhaling Zacharias’ smell. I was beyond relaxed and, regretfully, I was serene. I wished it would’ve been acceptable to lay there forever, but I knew Zacharias wouldn’t just disappear to allow me free range of the place; not after he imprinted me. He was giving me leeway for a reason not yet clear to me. I didn’t intend to find out, only because I knew I’d discover why unintentionally.
Having to convince myself to get out of the bed, I threw the blankets aside and stepped onto the floor, stretching and pulling my tensed limbs. I absentmindedly made the bed and wandered to the door, not instantly realizing it was unlocked when I popped it open. He never left the bedroom door unlocked. He had done so once in a mad rush to answer the front door to the police officer, but I knew he wouldn’t make that same mistake twice. This was purposeful.
So it came as a surprise when it freely opened, revealing the ebony hallway to me. I stood there for a moment, shocked, believing I had failed the test and a hand gripping a white cloth laced with chloroform would ravage me at any second. I was so untrusting that it was, even in a situation such as this, unhealthy.
When I stepped out from the threshold, I flinched violently as if my prediction had come true. Of course, however, it hadn’t, so I was grateful when I didn’t start feeling sleepy. I did yawn, however, but only because I was thinking of sleep. I didn’t think that the air was drugged. That would’ve been excessive, even for Zacharias.
I should’ve turned left to run down the stairs to the front door but it hadn’t even briefly crossed my mind. I immediately hooked a right to go to the bathroom, wanting to pee more than I wanted to try and run again. If I was being granted with the gift of slack, I wasn’t willing to tamper with it unless I knew I could achieve what I, less than before, wanted to do.
So I threw myself into the bathroom, slammed the door shut and turned on the light and fan. I didn’t lock the door—I couldn’t bring myself to. I had been locked in one too many rooms here by hands that weren’t my own that I didn’t want to do so by mine. It felt so nice to not be completely cornered; completely contained.
On the sink counter rested a pile of clothes, but it didn’t register to me what kind of clothes they were right away. It was a woman’s outfit; brand new, and something that acquired to my taste. It was something I would’ve purchased if I still had that freedom.
So simple yet so embodying of my style, I smoothed the clothing on the counter. A dark blue pair of skinnies, a baggy white t-shirt, a lacy red underwear and bra set, white socks and brand new black converse. I could’ve cried. It wasn’t anything to fit royalty, but yet it was so much more than wearing his clothes.
I buried my face in the clothing, feeling the denim jeans and the cotton t-shirt, smelling the stale smell of the department store. I hadn’t smelt anything so...industrial in so long. I wished I could extract the smell from the clothing and shower in it, just so I could feel human one last time. It didn’t feel too human when the smell was only limited to the clothing you wore, only because you knew you, yourself, didn’t smell the same way.
After I did my business, I instantly undressed and slipped into the clothing Zacharias had purchased for me, happy everything fit perfectly. Once I looked in the mirror, however, I couldn’t help but note the similarities between this outfit and the one I had been wearing the night he had kidnapped me. The outfits corresponded with one another, which instantly sparked some suspicion from me.
Was it pure coincidence? It could’ve been, and it probably was, but yet I felt suspicious about it. I felt as if I was being mocked by this outfit, and as I grabbed the edges of the shirt to tuck it into the front of the jeans, I scrutinized it and curled my lip. I had the sudden urge to rip it off, to rip everything off. It was amazing how something that I initially viewed as a kind act quickly turned to something meant to insult me.
I had to have been overthinking. Maybe he just thought it was something that I’d like—or maybe it was something that he liked too much. If he were to look at me wearing this, I wondered if Zacharias would see the exact same girl he kidnapped twenty-three days ago. And I wondered, if he did see the same girl he kidnapped, if it would turn him on. Did this outfit indulge him in some sort of sick, twisted reminiscence?
I shook my head and opened the door, gathering Zacharias’ old clothing and my bra into my arms. I didn’t even glance at the bedroom as I walked past it, heading down the stairs like a mad woman on a mission. There were no lights on in the house. There was only vague sunshine that seeped in from outside through the small, widely spaced apart windows. But even that did little with the shaded theme of the cabin.
It had such a melancholy mood that my steps subconsciously slowed as I walked further and further down the stairs. This floor of the cabin seemed decorated with depression, and I was compelled by such a feeling of sadness that I was tempted to go back upstairs. It was different being down here alone than it was to be down here with Zacharias lurking nearby. Everything felt so different...so perturbing.
Once I was fully downstairs, I felt myself become jittery and cold from a draft disclosing itself from thin air. I pursed my lips, looking around, as if ghosts were watching me from the shadows they nestled themselves within. My converse padded tiredly against the floor, the hairs on the back of my neck standing erect.
I shuddered to myself, hugging the bundle of clothes in my arms tighter to my chest. I realized, only then, that I no longer wanted to wander around the cabin. I did have every intention of putting the clothes into the laundry, but then I had no motivation to look around and find a washing machine or a hamper. Approaching the kitchen table, I rested the clothes on it instead.
I didn’t exactly know where anything was. I had been down here, of course, but never long enough to implore or explore. I knew it wouldn’t take rocket science to try and find out, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be intruding although my life, too, had been intruded on far worse than any way I could intrude on Zacharias’.
I walked in front of the sink and hovered over it, grabbing the edge of the counter with my hands. I revolted myself for suddenly regarding Zacharias with such an unwavering reverence when all I had wanted to do was spit on him and the ground he walked on. His imprint...it had altered me drastically, and it took every fibre of my being to fight against it.
I couldn’t tell if it was pitiful or admirable how much I tried to fight against our bond. It could be considered pitiful by how weak my arguments against the bond were, but it could also be admirable how obstinate I was in reference to giving in. I had a strong will—or, at least, I hoped I did. There was always room for improvement.
I looked over to the front door over my shoulder, and I felt like it looked back at me. I was either insane or very overtired, or maybe even both; either way, it was enough for me to turn back around. I was appalled to discover I had no urge to run...to escape. It made me feel guilty, because I knew I should’ve, but I couldn’t summon the desire.
I, apparently, just wanted to stay in place, and await Zacharias’ return. My lips pulled back as I gritted my teeth, dropping my head as I ran my hands through my still damp curls. I was plagued by so many different feelings, emotions and urges, and I began to loathe myself when not one of them were inclusive to running away. I tried to blame it on the fear that I wouldn’t be successful. But it sure hadn’t stopped me before.
Then there was a sudden knock at the door.
I felt myself go rigid as I slowly turned to look back at the door. I humoured the idea that it was Zacharias for a second, but I knew Zacharias wouldn’t knock to get into his own cabin. So that meant it had to be someone new. And the fact that it meant someone new was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Was it another cop?
I didn’t stay by the sink much longer to ponder, so I rushed over to the front door, stood on my tiptoes, and looked out of the peephole. I was confused for a moment, maybe because the person outside of the door wasn’t a cop, or maybe because it was another man. Why was another man here? Was he, too, a test?
I reckoned that it wouldn’t matter much, and unextended myself. “Who are you?” I asked, still cautious and aware. I still wasn’t confident or secure enough around these parts to let just anyone in. If it were up to me, I knew that I still wouldn’t willingly let Zacharias in either.
“Alph—,” he stopped. ”Zacharias sent me.” he explained just loudly enough so I could hear him.
Still uncertain, I called back, “what for?”
Stupidly I asked again, “...what for?”
“Can you open the door, Lu—,” he corrected himself again. ”Edie?” I didn’t respond. “Please? I don’t have the authorization to ask favours, but I promise you it will make it easier to discuss if you just open the door.”
I worried my lip. “How do I know you haven’t been sent here to kill me? Or kidnap me? Nothing surprises me much anymore these days,” I quickly found myself rambling. “Are you a serial killer or something? If you are, maybe I should just open the door. I mean, we are in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere.”
“Middle of butt-fuck nowhere,” he repeated under his breath, and I sniggered to myself as I leant my ear against the door. “Is that something you humans would say?”
“Something like that. We have some wicked slang,” I smiled. “You still haven’t answered my questions.”
He, too, sniggered. “No, I’m not here to kill you. But it depends on what you mean by kidnapping.”
“Well, for example, breaking in and drugging me, before dragging me out of here. Just a rough sketch, though. I think kidnapping is a broad term. There’s hundreds of ways to kidnap people.”
“Do you classify yourself as a kidnapping expert?” He was humouring me; keeping me talking. As much as I didn’t want to believe the man outside was a good guy, I couldn’t stop myself from talking to him. He was the first new person I had jovially talked to in twenty-three days. I had no fun conversing with Zacharias, yet this man seemed to encourage conversation from me.
“Who are you, exactly?” I asked. “You know Zacharias, clearly. But let’s forget that. Let’s start from scratch. What’s your name? Your profession? Your status?”
He was quick to answer, perhaps wanting to ease my curiosity and I. “My name is James. My profession is running this pack alongside Alpha Zacharias. I am the beta.”
“Alpha,” I wasn’t too confused hearing the term. Wolves ran in a pack. And a pack such as this one needed a leader, such as every office needed a boss to run it. “Beta. You’re seated at his right hand, I take it?” I asked as I stood back on my tiptoes to look through the peephole.
He nodded, his long, ebony ponytail moving with his head. “At both of your right hands,” he mildly corrected. “But yes, I’m the right-hand man.”
I frowned. “What is there even to do in a pack? How does Zacharias lead? I can’t imagine him doing paperwork everyday, or managing a counter. It’s not like money circulates through here. What’s the dynamic?”
“You’ve attended high school before, Edie. What did your principal do?”
It was an odd question, but I knew he was going to pull an analogy from it, so I answered honestly. “Well, sometimes he’d jump from classroom to classroom to see what was going on. Sometimes he’d substitute. Sometimes he’d walk the halls to make sure everything was fine. He, on the rare occasion, would wander outside to ensure everything was on par. He’d sometimes host assemblies to chew over current events, but paperwork was predominant. It’s a school.”
“Its nearly the exact same for running a pack. He wanders around, ensuring everything is as it seems. He makes sure there are no oncoming threats. On weekdays he teaches guards, watchers, warriors. And, on the rare occasion,” he was playfully mimicking the way I talked. “He’ll go from cabin to cabin to ensure everyone is okay...that no ones being rejected. There’s more, of course, but I won’t bore you with that.”
“Informative,” I commented. “You’re very thorough. You should create pamphlets. This could almost be considered a boot camp.”
“Just trying to satisfy your curiosity,” he responded, shrugging. I noticed he talked at the door the same way he might’ve talked to me if I was standing right there. I had to suppress a laugh only because I knew he’d hear it, and he’d know I was looking at him through the peephole. “Will you open the door for me, now?”
I worried my lip. “Will you make me a promise?”
I saw his arched brows flick up for the shortest second. “It depends, Lun—Edie. I’m very limited with what I can and cannot do with you. Our relationship is supposed to be strictly professional. I’ve already crossed over the line talking to you like this.”
I frowned. “Okay, before I lay out my proposition, I’m going to give you my sob story, okay?”
He pursed his lips. “Well...” he paused, hesitated. It was clear he was uncomfortable doing this, but he seemed willing to do just about anything in hopes that I’d eventually open the door. “Okay.”
And I went off. “I’ve been locked in this gothic place for twenty three days, James. Holy shit. Twenty-three days. The only people I have to keep me company are myself and Zacharias and oooh let me tell you, he is not enjoyable. To be honest, I firmly believe that I’d have a better conversation with a fucking Venus flytrap.
“I’ve been through some pretty traumatic shit, too. I’m sure you probably have an idea, or, if you don’t, I have been kidnapped by your leader. And you want to know how he did it? It was probably the most traumatizing way possible. I worked the night shift, so when I got home it was pitch black, and he was already waiting for me. Needless to say, one thing led to another, and I locked myself in my bathroom, he kicked down the door, I squirted shampoo at him, he broke my mirror, grabbed me, I hit him with a lamp, he tackled me down the stairs and drugged the shit out of me.
“Then, when I woke up, I was in his stupid little truck and i jumped out, then he chased me, and I ran into a forest, then he found me and I kicked off of a tree and we rolled down this hill, and I thought I was falling to my death, but we landed in this little body of water, then he knocked me out again, and when I woke up I was here. And I’ve tried so many times to escape, but that man is part Santa I swear to god. Like, seriously, he’s always watching, and I’m pretty sure my name is scribbled under his naughty list.
“I mean, come on. Lights, camera, action—I, too, could’ve used a little heads up. Instead I’m forced onto this reality show, that’s all reality and no show, and I’m forced to survive here when I clearly don’t belong here. I’m so scared and I’m so lonely and I’m so sorry that I’m using you as a therapist but it just feels really good to talk to someone new; someone who probably has no other choice but to listen to my bullshit at this exact time. But thank you, I appreciate it.”
It was only then that I realized I was crying. I could feel the salty warmth run over my top lip and into my mouth. I puckered my lips, and stood flat on my feet as I wiped my tears away. I felt absolutely pathetic, telling him my sob story while I was, ironically, sobbing. But it felt so good to just tell...someone.
Zacharias wouldn’t listen to me. He had the option to just turn his back to me when he so wanted. It didn’t help that I didn’t have a notebook or a pen so I could write down my thoughts in private. Talking to James, his beta, probably wasn’t my next best bet, but I was willing to risk the consequences.
“So, James, I guess what I’m trying to ask,” but my question didn’t correlate to my story at all. “Will you just...come inside and talk to me for a while? I still have so many questions. He—he just marked me yesterday. I just need to see a new face. I want to sit and have coffee with someone. I just...I need a friend.”
“Lu—Edie,” he sighed. “We’re only supposed to be professional with one another. He could have my head for this.”
“No, I won’t allow it. Say I bombarded you, threatened you, blackmailed you. I don’t care. I will take the heat for this. I haven’t done anything here without facing consequences. I don’t have much to lose. Just...please. Oh, god, James. Please.” I begged, nearly being reduced to my knees.
“James, who was the infamous antagonist to first say ”off with their heads!“?” I asked desperately, playing off of his concern.
“I’m—I don’t know.” He answered.
“The Queen of Hearts,” I swallowed nervously. “Between Zacharias and I, I’m the one more legible to have your head.”
There was a long stretch of silence. “Just a few minutes.” He relented.