The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 28

I tried and tried and tried, but I could not sleep for the life of me.

I must’ve been tossing and turning for a while, but my eyelids would not grow heavy. At some point the blonde nurse came in and told me she was going to remove my nasogastric tube. I had hoped I’d be unconscious for this, and was brought little comfort when she told me it was only mildly uncomfortable.

She carried out the standard practice; putting on her gloves, placing a towel across my chest, and doing step by step what I was certain she was taught in her medical book. She was right—it was only mildly uncomfortable, but it was a sensation I hoped to the high heavens I would never experience again. It felt like a long worm being pulled from my stomach and out of my nose.

After she was finished disposing, washing and recording whatever it was she needed to record, she told me she’d be checking in on me periodically for the next four hours to make sure I didn’t go through distension or nausea. I did feel a little queasy, but it wasn’t unbearable given the many things I had experienced before. She later removed my IV’s.

She offered to grab me another cup of water, and I gratefully accepted. She came back moments later with a cup of water in hand, and then she left me so I could have some time to myself. She must’ve thought I was exhausted. I could only imagine how bad my eyes bags were; probably dark like bruises.

I was at the stage of being so tired I couldn’t sleep. I yawned, laid down and closed my eyes but yet I couldn’t shut off again. It must’ve been because the detective could’ve showed up at any moment, and I still didn’t have a straight, reliable story to tell him.

I curled into a ball on my side, and about every fifteen to twenty minutes or so I heard the nurse check in on me, then leave quietly like a mouse such as the way she came. She must’ve thought I had fallen asleep, which was a good thing. She might push back the detectives arrival time just so I could rest.

Instead, I plotted, conspired and construed.

My mind, having thought nothing before reaching pandemonium as I tried to cram a believable story into my head, seemed to creak and stutter but the gears never started turning. Every time I weaved a story that seemed tenable enough, the threads that held it together would weaken and eventually said story would fray and fall apart. Thus, about a million times, I had to start from scratch.

I started to grow frustrated, and the heavy breathing of the patient beside me did little to redirect me onto a steady path of concentration. I was glad I wasn’t hooked up to the heart monitor because there would be a loud, rapid beeping as my heartbeat picked up.

I was so honed in on my thoughts that I didn’t hear the nurse come in the last couple of times. I had to suppress a scream as her gentle hand rested on my shoulder, and my elbow missed her nose by millimetres. I sat up instantly, my face going beet red. “I’m so sorry,” I apologized, nearly incoherent. “You scared me.”

She laughed, and her voice twinkled like wedding bells. She seemed like someone who genuinely liked to do her job for the sake of helping people, rather than just for a paycheque. “It happens quite often. It’s nothing to worry about,” I nodded, but flashed her an apologetic smile. “Would you like to take a shower? I can set out your clothes for you. They’re washed. The doctor said I could discharge you once you were fully cognitive, but ultimately it’s up to you.”

“Yes, that would be nice,” I furrowed my brows, just as I was getting ready to throw the blanket off of me. “But what about the detective? The doctor said a detective would be here to talk to me.”

“I told him I’d let him know once you were awake and functioning so he could drive over. There’s no rush,” she offered me a smile, her bright blue eyes shimmering. They reminded me of a cloudless, sunny sky. I hadn’t seen eyes so scintillating in what felt like forever. “He’s on your time, you’re not on his.”

“Okay,” I said, then paused. The way she put it stunned me for a second...he was on my time, I wasn’t on his. I hadn’t been on my time for twenty-four days. For twenty-four days I had waited, idled, and overthought as I waited for Zacharias because I was on his time. Now, I had freedom again. It felt strange; like I shouldn’t have been allowed to act or respond on my own free will. Now, I could roam as I pleased. It felt alien, as if I had to teach myself how to walk again. “Thank you.”

And even though she knew I didn’t need her help, she helped me out of bed; probably just realizing I needed some moral, emotional support.

They had set out a shower kit for me just so I could wash what needed to be washed, and brush what needed to be brushed. The soap was scentless, but it did its job in making me feel clean; the toothpaste was cold on my gums. Even though I showered every evening back at Zacharias’ cabin, I still had that insatiable feeling of dirtiness. But I knew I’d never feel as clean as I did standing in the midnight cloudburst.

By the time I got out, my skin was scarlet and I was warm. The bathroom mirror was foggy, and as I swiped away the steam I saw how inflamed my cheeks were. I was just thankful that I was able to shower and not have to worry about knocking on the door just to be let out. I locked it from the inside; no chair from the outside could still keep me contained.

I took my sweet time getting changed into my washed clothes, and a pair of new sandals, the nurse had laid out for me. Again, I tried to think of a feasible story that would satisfy the detective, but I was inconsistent and inevitably all my stories ended up with more holes than Swiss cheese. As I ran the wide-toothed comb through my hair, I knew that coming up with something good before stepping out of the door was impossible. I’d just have to be vague.

I went to stick my hands into the pockets of my sweatpants, and in one pocket was a scrunchie; a white scrunchie I used to use to throw my hair up. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment I stopped, but I knew I couldn’t have used it for a while. As the mirror began to bleed the steam away, I braided my wet hair; thankful to have it out of my face for the first time in a while.

I took the shower kit in my arms, picked up my used towels and brought them out with me as I left the shower-room. The blonde nurse, conveniently, was right around the corner and took the kit from me. She informed me that the detective was in the waiting room near the emergency entrance.

My sandals squeaked as I walked down the hall, and I knew the detective would hear me before he saw me; but I could smell him before I saw him. He smelt like expensive cologne and cigarettes, and as I stepped into the waiting room his scent hit me like a wall. He smelt so different from Zacharias that I felt my throat constrict.

And he looked so different that I felt like I was sinning as I stared at him. He couldn’t have differed from Zacharias more. He was still tall and broad, though not nearly as much as Zacharias was. And he donned pale, heavily freckled skin. His hair was a brilliant strawberry blond, as if gold was woven with blood.

And as he looked up at me, his electric blue eyes seemed as if they could stare right through me. He stood up the moment he sensed me, and it almost seemed too cliche that he was the only one in the waiting room. He was handsome in a boyish way that counteracted Zacharias’ gloomy, brutish nature.

“Hi, Miss Bartem?” He asked with a diluted Scottish accent, and I gave him a slow nod. He started to approach me, and it took me all I had to not step back and run for the hills. He was big enough where he could overpower me. I had to stop fucking thinking this way...not everyone was out to kidnap me. “Perfect. I’m Detective Roth,” we shook hands. “And I’ll be the one asking you questions on your disappearance. Is there any place you’d prefer to sit and talk?”

I shook my head, and once again blanked out. A choice; a simple choice, but yet it seemed like such a monumental moment. I hadn’t had many choices in twenty-four days, and any choices I did have were unfavourable. It was amazing how much such a short time could strip from you. I was neglected of life’s little pleasures, and now that I was being gifted with them again, it seemed surreal. It would take me a while to get reacclimatized.

“Here is fine,” I chewed my lip. I wasn’t ready to leave yet. He started to back away from me, and it felt weird that he was adding space rather than minimizing it. Zacharias would always close in on me, ensuring by the time he left I was unable to breathe. It felt weird to just...breathe. “Until people come.”

Detective Roth shrugged, took a seat. I slowly, with a lot of apprehension, sat in the chair beside him. I hated being as small as I was, because as I sat in the presence of a bigger man I felt like nothing but a target. I hated the new fear that was instilled in me. I wondered if I’d ever feel safe enough to just relax again...to trust that not everyone was out to hurt me.

“Before we begin, is there anything you’d like to drink? Tea, coffee? I think I’ll grab a coffee.” And he stood up again. His black trench coat looked expensive. It also gave him wizard-y vibes.

I chewed my lip again. I hadn’t had one in so long... “I’ll take a hot chocolate.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” And then he was off.

He came back minutes later with two styrofoam cups in his hands; a coffee for him, and a hot chocolate for me. Even though I could smell the artificial chocolate powder just fine as I held it on my lap, I had to take a moment to bring it to my nose and inhale. It was calming like chamomile, and suddenly I was brought back to memories of my mom making this for me when I would come home from school. She’d sit at the table and keep me company as I did my homework. The last time I had a hot chocolate was the day before she died.

“Thank you.” I said, and my voice was barely above a whisper. I took the first sip and my enhanced senses made it taste absolutely terrible, but I would drink it till the last drop. It was better than orange juice, at least.

“No problem,” he said, taking his seat beside me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. But I felt him shuffle and pull a few things from his pockets, so I did look at those. He had a voice recorder, a pad and a pencil. He put the voice recorder on the arm of his chair then set his coffee on the ground. “Do you mind if we start right away?”

I didn’t, so we did. He carried out standard procedure, saying his full name and the date, and then finished off by saying he was talking to me so then I had to state my full name. Before he started to interrogate me, he read the exact time. Ten-ten am.

“Can you describe the suspect to me?” He asked.

I had to fib a little bit. Why did I have to fib? Okay, maybe I didn’t have to...but I would. I didn’t know why I would. There was no reason to fib, but I couldn’t muster the courage to tell the truth. I was willing to bet it was because of the mark Zacharias placed on me; it would forever cause me to keep our secrets between him and I. A deliberate oath to confidentiality and a direct stamp on my eternal loyalty.

“He wasn’t overly tall, maybe a little under the standard height. He was very muscular, though, so I think he could’ve been a weightlifter or something. I think he might’ve been a little tanned, but I don’t know. He was always fully clad in black around me. Head to toe, I mean. Only his eyes and lips were exposed. Every so often I’d catch a glimpse of the skin around his mouth. He wore a balaclava at all times.” I was talking too much. He’d read right through me.

He was taking notes all throughout. “Can you describe his eye colour to me?”

“They were a dark, dark green,” I failed to mention the abnormality in his left iris. “Like pine needles.”

“Do you think you ever encountered the suspect prior to your abduction? Perhaps, ran into him at work or during a time near that? Did you ever catch his name?”

“I’m unsure if I have ever encountered the suspect before, but I don’t think I have. I encountered a lot of people at work and when you’ve seen one stature you’ve seen them all, I guess,” I swallowed. “He mentioned his name to me once, but I don’t think it’s his real name. He said it was Zack, but he thought about it for a moment before telling me.”

“Do you have any ideas what the suspects real name could be? Did he have any accomplices with him? If there were accomplices, did you catch their names?”

“No, he acted alone. I didn’t encounter anyone else besides Zack, if that’s really what his name is. He was the only one I saw for twenty-four days.”

“Do you have any idea where Zack might’ve been holding you hostage? Can you give me a general description?”

“I—I don’t know,” and truly, I didn’t. One turn bled into the next and I knew that I could never find the village even if I tried. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. “It must’ve been some place out of town. I remember greenery, lots of greenery; it seemed endless. We were in the middle of a forest, I believe. I think he had me isolated in a cabin.”

“Do you remember what kind of trees they were?”

“Deciduous.” Coniferous.

“Can you describe the appearance of the cabin, from the outside then the inside?”

“The cabin, I think, was tiny and old; probably the size of a storage shed. The two rooms I saw were suffocating. No decorations, no wallpaper. It was just...wood—pale wood. It was bleak and scary. The room he kept me in could barely hold me and the bed. I know the roof was leaky, however. When it rained, the water seeped through the ceiling.” Fuck being vague. Giving details made you sound more credible. The more details, the more credible the story. So far I was doing okay.

“Did you ever get a good look at his vehicle? Was there more than one vehicle? Can you recall the vehicle he kidnapped you in?”

No one had witnessed his arrival, nor his departure. “His vehicle was moderately new. I think it was a 2015 Ford F-150. It was the only vehicle he had. It was black.” False, it was an old teal pickup truck that most of the creeps you watched out for also drove.

“Did you ever catch a glimpse of the license plate number?”

I shook my head, but then he flicked his chin to the recorder. I blushed. “No, I did not.”

“Let’s reverse the timeline. Can you recall the events that led up to your initial kidnapping?”

“I was getting off of work—I was working night shift at the gas station. It was maybe around eleven, I think. I drove home, like I usually did. And nothing felt weird, until I pulled up to my house. You know how you adopt that sixth sense when you feel like something bad is about to happen to you? I adopted it the moment I pulled up. But I shook it off,

“When I walked through the door, however, that feeling came back. But I didn’t really hear anything, and there was no evidence that led to a break in...at least that I could see, so I carried on. I hung up my keys and took off my shoes, but the moment I stepped away from the door and past the dividing wall that’s when he grabbed me. That’s when his attack began.”

This part I could tell as it was. Back then, I was oblivious too. “Can you explain the events that took place after, until the point he was able to extract you from your house?”

“I sacked him,” I said bluntly. “I managed to get a kick in and he let me go. My impulse was to run up the stairs, and I ended up locking myself in my bathroom. My bedroom was right next door, and my jacket was on my bed. In my jacket pocket there was a can of pepper spray,” I probably shouldn’t have told him that. “Had I used that, I might’ve been able to escape,

“But, inevitably, he found me and I had no weapons. He ended up kicking down the door and I sprayed shampoo at him. He swatted it out of my hand and it hit the mirror, which is what caused it to shatter. He lifted me out of the bathroom by my waist and proceeded to drag me down the hallway, but I managed to hit him with the lamp on my side table. Again, he let me go,

“I ran for the stairs and he tackled me down them. He took the brunt end of most of the impact, but when we reached the final step my head hit the wall and I was knocked out for a while. It was still dark when I woke up, though. And by the time I woke up I was no longer home, I was in the back of his truck with my shoes on again.” So I did end up fibbing a little bit about this sequence.

The detective caught up on his note-taking. “Do you recall the road he was taking you down? Did you recognize it?”

“No, I did not,” Not a lie. “I’m sorry. I honestly can’t tell you where he took me. If I could, I would in a heartbeat.”

“Did any major events take place as he took you down this road?”

“I managed to get out of the vehicle,” and I bit my lip, recalling my first escape attempt. I felt the fear all anew, reliving it all over again. I took a long drink of my hot chocolate. “He hadn’t thought to put the child’s-lock on in the back, so when I came to I was able to open the door and throw myself from the vehicle. I remember I landed on the gravel road and I rolled and rolled. I remember hoping the vehicle would just keep going, but of course the tires would only screech as they stopped,

“He started to pursue me on foot. I ran down the road, but he started to catch up to me so I broke off. I tumbled down a ditch and into a forest inundated with trees. I weaved my way through them just to put the distance between us. I managed to elude him, and when I finally stopped running so I could breathe my ears were ringing so loudly I couldn’t hear anything else. By that, I mean I couldn’t hear him approaching me. I just remember something heavy, probably a rock, hitting the back of my head. Needless to say, it knocked me out again.”

“And can you recall what happened when you came to?”

“Then I was in his cabin, in the room he kept me prisoner in. He had me tied to the bed by my wrists. I didn’t see him much, actually. He only came in to bring me food and take me to the bathroom. There were no windows, but there was a skylight directly above the bed,” I thought of Room by Emma Donoghue. It was one of my favourite books. “He made sure he always kept me tied to the bed. He would feed me himself.”

“Did you ever try to make further attempts at escaping?”

Yes, many. “No. I was too scared he would kill me if I wasn’t successful. And I mean there was little to do in a place with no windows while you’re almost always tied to a bed. There was nothing I could use to hurt him. My only option, realistically, was to just...cooperate.”

“Can you explain what happened on the night of your release?”

I thought of James. “Zack must’ve laced my food with something because I passed out about halfway through my meal. When I woke up, I was being thrown out of his vehicle and onto my front lawn. He had tied my wrists behind my back and he had blindfolded me, so I didn’t know where I was at first. When the police came, and my bind and blindfold were removed, however, I knew I was home.”

“Witnesses say they saw a white 2000 Chevy Silverado, what are your thoughts on that?”

I could easily save this. I was an oblivious abductee, of course, forced to view everything through a skylight. Only God knew what took place beyond the walls. “I—I don’t recall seeing one. I didn’t see him a lot so I guess he could’ve found another vehicle to prevent correlation.”

“What do you mean by correlation?”

“In case there were witnesses to the initial kidnapping vehicle.”

He didn’t seem to doubt me. I was almost through. I took a sip of hot chocolate. “Do you think there could have been a motive for your kidnapping?”

Yes, our bond. “I—I don’t think so. He wasn’t hostile to me. He was cold, but never cruel. He never wanted ransom. I think I was an experiment, in a sense; he probably got in through the back door because I always left it unlocked. And when I didn’t work out, he simply returned me.”

“What do you mean by experiment?”

“I don’t know,” yikes. “He seemed tense whenever he was around me, like this was his first time doing something like this.”

“Do you think it was his first time attempting a kidnapping and incarceration? Do you think it will be the last?”

“I don’t know, for both. My best guess is that yes it was his first time doing it, and yes I don’t think he’ll strike again. If this wasn’t to be his last attempt, I think he’d have killed me. He returned me. I don’t think it was his cup of tea.”

“One last question. There was an officer in a neighbouring town who was sent on patrol and went missing, and they were never able to trace him or his final location. His last known words stated he heard a woman screaming from inside a cabin and a white male was being detained in the back. He never issued a follow up and he has yet to be found, so we’re under the impression that whoever was detained managed to get away. We’re also under the impression the woman he heard screaming was you. Are you able to confirm?”

I had to suppress myself from blowing my cover. The moment he mentioned the police officer who went missing, I knew he suspected I wasn’t giving him the truth and nothing but the truth and he did, in fact, doubt me. He never would’ve mentioned the officer if he thought I was telling him the full truth. “No,” I shook my head. “That never took place. I’m sorry.”

And when I looked up, his pale blue eyes seemed to read right through me. “No further questions at this point.” He never once looked away as he did the ending procedure. I held his stare as I drank the rest of my hot chocolate. I didn’t think he was going to drink his coffee that he had set on the floor.

He knew I was lying through my teeth, but he had no evidence to prove it.

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