Fit For Fire

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The Monster in the Basement

Adeline

Mid-morning sun filtered through the leaves of the grand oak tree. Birds gathered on the phone lines across the street, and the neighbor was out pulling weeds from his flower bed. Looking out the window, my gaze shifted to the reflection of Hannah and Sarah who were playing dolls behind me. Our bedroom door had been locked when we had woken up. The soft click had awakened me out of an uneasy slumber. When Hannah woke up an hour later, her dark curls wild and her eyes still soft with sleep, she tried the door. Her mouth had curled into a small frown when she found it locked. Noticing I was awake, she crawled into my bed. Slipping herself underneath my covers, we stayed there until Sarah woke up. When she started shifting through her drawers and pulling out clothes, we had followed suit. There would be no going back to sleep. Sarah never did anything quietly.

Putting her doll down Hannah spoke “Maybe the Lawson’s went to the store.” The Lawsons often locked us in our rooms when they left the house. “No.” I replied “They’re still here.” Sarah looked at me with a roll of her blue eyes “How would you know?“. “I can hear them.” I responded, looking her in the face.“Can not.” Sarah shot back, throwing a fistful of her red hair over her shoulder. Turning from the window I balled my fists at my side. ” Can too. They’re downstairs. They have been walking in and out of the basement all morning.” Sarah scrunched up her nose at me before crossing her arms in front of her chest. “There is no way you can hear that.” “I can.” I stomped my foot defiantly ” I can hear the stairs creak. Someone is coming up the stairs right now!” Sarah stopped and listened, and sure enough, footsteps could soon be heard coming towards us. “You’re such a freak.” She spat at me, turning when we heard the jingling of our door knob. Mrs. Lawson, a plump woman with mousy hair and lifeless eyes, opened the door and told us to come down for breakfast. Leaving our room, she went to unlock the boy’s room.

Once downstairs we squabble over the cereal and toast. Grabbing the bright yellow box of my favorite cereal, I poured the o’s into the bowl relishing in the musical tinkling as the cereal hit glass. Pouring the milk in slowly, I watched as my cereal floated to the surface, creating small islands in the milky white waves. Looking up, I noticed that the boys who were normally loud, and frankly, kind of gross, were almost silent. Surveying the faces of the kids around the table I realized that only two of the boys had come down. Brenden, the oldest of the three boys, had yet to arrive. The boys ate their cereal slowly, as if afraid to spill and they kept their eyes on the table, refusing to look at Mrs.Lawson. Franklin, the youngest boy who was a mass of freckles on milky white skin, and a shock of black hair, kept shifting his doe like brown eyes nervously, as if waiting for someone to grab him. Fear rolled off the boys in waves, and the smell of it started to make my stomach turn.

Twisting my head towards the staircase, I waited to see Brenden’s messy copper waves, green eyes and mischievous smile shine down on me while his lanky form jogged down the stairs. Brenden was 11 so he was 5 years older than me, but he was really nice. He helped me with my homework sometimes and defended me and played with me when Sarah was being a brat. I waited, but breakfast was soon over and Brenden never showed up. When we were excused, we made our way outside to play. Heading to the bathroom first, I passed the basement door. I picked up on the faint sounds of crying and muffled yelling. I picked up on something else too. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew it was Brenden who was down there. While in the bathroom I heard Mr. Lawson stomp passed the door, and go out what sounded like the garage door. Walking out of the bathroom quietly, I went back to the basement door. The door was a faded white, and the paint was chipped and peeling at the bottom. The basement was silent now. Reaching out I ran my hand down the wood of the door, as if asking it to tell me its secrets. My eyes widened in surprise when the door opened at my light touch. We weren’t allowed in the basement even though the washer and dryer were down there. Mrs. Lawson did the laundry herself as we were expressly forbidden from entering the room.

My curiosity getting the better of me, I pushed the door open further. I could see a faint glow at the bottom of the stairs. Not being able to stop myself I took the first tentative step down, while pulling the door closed behind me. When the reality of what I was doing hit me, I hesitated. Most of the kids, specifically Sarah’s, scary stories involved the basement in some way. Hearing a groan and thinking of Brenden, I knew I needed to continue. I slowly traveled down the stairs in the dim light. My little body was light, and the steps, grateful for my light weight, remained quiet under my feet.

Reaching the bottom step, I grimaced as the damp smell of mold and stale air invaded my young nose. Unfinished and empty, save for the small mountain of boxes in the corner, the basement was dark, and thinly covered in a layer of dust and cobwebs. A lone lightbulb hung over the washer and dryer. Its dim yellow light struggling to cut through the darkness that surrounded it. Holding all the charm of a six-year-old’s nightmare, the basement lived up to every scary story Sarah could throw my way. What’s worse, was as I explored, I swear I could hear the erratic pounding of a heart. Scared as I was, I couldn’t be sure if the pounding belonged to me, or to someone else.

No longer the brave explorer I started this journey out as, I was about to sneak back upstairs before a small cough caught my attention. Noticing a plain door in the dark corner of the room I crept up to it. Another cough echoed through the empty basement. Brenden. Reaching out I twisted the cold door knob. Pushing the door open, I watched it swing open silently. My heart rattled in my throat as I imagined coming face to face with the monster Sarah said lived down here. I imagined the monster devouring Brenden, as Sarah said the Lawson’s fed the monster the ‘bad’ children to keep it from breaking loose and eating the others.

Instead of a monster, my eyes only found Brendan, his face shadowed in the dim lighting that fought through the tiny cracks of the boarded-up window behind him. He was huddled on a threadbare rug, clutching his sides. A dog’s food bowl sat in the corner of the room and a thin blanket was balled up against the back wall. Brendan’s eyes looked up, and upon seeing my face, he struggled to his feet and rushed over to me. “You have to go Ade. You need to leave now! I’m fine, I promise just go!” Scared by his words I reached out my hand. ” Why? Come out with me, it’s scary here.” Sighing his frustration, he took my hand and led me towards the door. My attention strayed to his red rimmed eyes, pale face, and bloody lip.” I can’t Ade, you need to leave, okay, this isn’t the place for you.” He replied desperately. Determined, I scrunched up my face before asking, “Why were you crying? Was it Mr. Lawson? I could hear crying and I just knew it was you.”

Before he could answer, the stairs squealed their displeasure as heavy footsteps stomped down them. “Hide!” Brenden whispered. He pushed me out of the room and I ran to the small pile of boxes. Crouching down behind them, I heard Mr. Lawson’s voice as he reached the bottom step. “Trying to run off again? I thought you learned your lesson the first time.” “No Mr. Lawson.” Brenden answered. “Don’t lie to me you little shit, the basement door wasn’t closed all the way, and you’re standing there with an open door. I caught you.” I could hear the anger and disgust in Mr. Lawson’s voice. ” I didn’t Mr. Lawson.” Brenden pleaded. “Liar! First it’s windows and now this?” Mr. Lawson quickly closed the distance between him and Brenden and slapped Brenden so hard I could hear it echo. I heard Brenden growl as the man hit him again.

Hot tears blurred my vision. I stood from the boxes as Mr. Lawson’s back was to me. I wanted to run and I started for the stairs until I heard Brenden cry out. He was on the floor and Mr. Lawson had kicked him in the ribs. Something wild inside me snapped. “Stop!” I screamed running at him. “Stop hurting him! I opened the door, not him!” Mr. Lawson turned to face me; his dark eyes crazy. His salt and pepper hair, which was usually slicked back, stood up on his head at weird angles. A loose strand fell in front of his face, and his pale, thin lips twitched in his anger. He kicked Brenden again, and I ran to him, no longer in control.

My little fists hammered his legs and I kicked his shins as he easily picked me up by the collar of my shirt. He threw me off of him and into the room. I scraped my knees and elbows on the concrete breaking my fall. ” I see we have a rat problem!” He yelled. Angry, Brenden ran at him, landing a punch to the grown man’s gut. “Don’t touch her like that!” Mr. Lawson shoved him backwards, back into the small room. Slamming the door, I heard the door lock, before Mr. Lawson turned off the light and thundered up the stairs.

The room was dark and out of fear and pain I cried. Brenden walked over to me and picked me up. Sitting down he placed me in his lap. Stroking my hair, he tried to comfort me. “It’s okay Ade, I’m here.” When I stopped crying, he asked me ” Why didn’t you run? Why did you come back for me?” “I couldn’t leave you.” I hiccupped. ” I got really mad, and I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to save you.” Brenden squeezed me tighter. ” I should have saved you. I’m so sorry. You’re so special Ade. You don’t belong in a place like this.” “You don’t think I’m a freak?” I asked remembering Sarah’s words. “Of course not. Just wait. One day you will find out just how special you are. I just hope I’m there to see you when you do.”

Goosebumps covered my arms, and despite the fresh air, I could still smell mold and stagnation. My mind was still in the dark basement with Brenden. It had been a long time since I thought about Brenden or the Lawson’s. A few months after the basement incident I woke up one morning to find Brenden gone. Sarah said he ran away, she sometimes teased that he ran away because of me. One of the boys said he got sent to a different home. I was sent to the basement twice after he left. The first time for dropping a cup, the second time for punching Sarah in the face after she pushed me down. I smiled at the memory. The punishment had been worth it to see the look on her face, although I was still slightly afraid of the dark.Stretching out I wondered where Brenden was now, and if he ever thought of me or even remembered me. Part of me hoped he didn’t, as he probably associated me with the dungeon like basement and the physical abuse he endured there.

Turning towards the nightstand I groaned. 5:05, bled the red letters from the small alarm clock. Running my hands through my hair, I yawned. My whole body ached from exhaustion, but my anxious mind paid no heed to my need for sleep. Instead I spent the night tangling myself in my sheets as I tossed and turned in an empty attempt to evade my own questions.

My thoughts raced through my mind so quickly I could barely catch the end of one, when another would begin. Did they expect me to assimilate to pack life, or would they let me return to my old one once they determined I wasn’t a threat? Zach never said what they did with the rogues who didn’t join the pack or find a mate. Thinking about mates sent my mind on the path I had been trying to avoid all night. Thinking over Zach’s words, I felt my cheeks flush. Since the moment I saw Zach I couldn’t stop thinking about him. All I wanted was to touch him, or for him to touch me. . .

Blushing a deeper shade of red, I tried to vanish the thought of his hands on my waist. I had tried to argue with myself that I was only drawn to him because of how insanely attractive he was, but I couldn’t fight the feeling that it was so much more than that. Zach was the most mesmerizing man I have ever been around. The slightest touch from him spread an all-consuming fire through my soul, he smelt like heaven on earth, and here I was, still doubting what he could be to me.

Did this mean that Zach was my mate? Growling out loud I turned over in bed, covering my head with a pillow. What kind of pathetic wolf was I? I should know my mate when I saw him, smelt him. It was instinct. Instinct. I hissed at myself. Throwing the pillow off of me, I slid out of bed. Fuming, I grabbed my backpack and carried it into the adjoining bathroom. My clumsy hand fumbled on the wall for a light switch. Finding it, I switched on the light and laid my backpack on the counter. Unzipping the bag, I started to pull out a change of clothes. My toothbrush and brush were already on the counter top. It had been a pleasant surprise to see they had even bothered to grab my bag after I had been rendered unconscious.

Thinking about that made me angry in a different way. Here I am worrying about whether or not Zach is my soul mate, when I should be thinking about the fact that he is the alpha that is responsible for taking me from my life. I started brushing my teeth angrily. I had no idea how or even what to feel. Finishing, I spit into the sink before rinsing my mouth. Taking off my shirt, I stepped out of my pajama shorts and turned on the water for a shower. The shower was huge, marble, and contained a built-in bench and one of those long overhead nozzles that was mounted in the middle of the ceiling. Just the fact that I had no idea what to call the shower head indicated this place was a bit too fancy for me. I considered the detachable one that I could change the settings on at home a luxury, and I had splurged, buying that thing on sale for 20 dollars.

Once the water got a bit steamy, I stepped inside. The shower head simulated rain, and the steam reminded me of both fog and storm clouds. I had to laugh to myself, with my current mood, I had all the elements necessary to create the perfect storm. Sniffing the bottle of body wash on the shelf, I discovered it smelled deliciously like grapefruit. The shampoo smelled of orange blossoms, and working it into my hair, I was convinced I would leave smelling like a citrus grove. Rinsing my hair clean, I massaged conditioner through my ends, before I started washing my body. Working up a lather, my mind wandered as I washed myself. Without a phone I hadn’t been able to contact my boss to get time off from work.

I groaned thinking about what I would do if I lost my job. I’d lose my credit, my apartment, go into debt. These people had no respect for the lives of others. What would I do? Zach’s face came to mind. What if he really is my mate? What would I do? What would that mean? My head started to pound. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about this until I knew for sure. He’d tell me, right? Should I ask? ‘Don’t ask!’ I thought to myself angrily. How stupid would I look, especially if I was wrong and I was just attracted to him or something? Besides, I shouldn’t assume it would mean anything, unless I wanted it to. Some mate bond thing, was not going to rule my life. It didn’t dictate my fate. I didn’t have to accept him. A wicked snarl ripped through my thoughts surprising me. My wolf was furious at the thought of turning away from Zach.

My wolf didn’t speak out too often. She used to when I was younger, but the harder I pushed to look and feel normal, the quieter she became. I had no idea she would be so insistent now however. Rinsing my body and hair, I turned off the water and stepped into the sauna I had created. Drying myself off, I wrapped my hair up before walking to my backpack. I picked out a pair of dark wash skinny jeans, and a white V-neck shirt. Drying my hair, I pulled them on. Opening the door to the room, I imagined the steam billowing out of the room like smoke as I walked over to the bed. It was much colder in the room, and sitting on the bed I could feel my skin tingle and my face grow tight with the temperature change. Brushing my hair out, I began to wonder what to do next. Was I allowed to leave the room?

Putting my brush down I tentatively walked towards the door. Gripping the door knob, I ran my thumb over its cold and smooth surface. Turning it slowly, I pulled the door open before stepping out into the dark hallway. Taking a few steps down the hallway I panicked when I heard footsteps pounding up the stairs. Thinking I had alerted the guard dog, I turned on my heel and shuffled back to my door. It wasn’t long before his scent reached me. I had just made it, when the footsteps stopped at the top.

“Good Morning.” Taking my hand off the door knob I slowly turned to see A very shirtless Zach standing at the top of the stairs. ” Mor. . .morning.” I stammered as, involuntarily; my eyes followed a drop of sweat as it slowly ran down his defined chest. Feeling him watching me, I could feel my face burn with the shame of being caught ogling my unconventional jailer. Snapping my attention back to Zach’s face, I only had time to take in his lopsided smirk before I realized that he was busy making his own observations. His eyes roamed down me slowly, as if trying to drink in every inch of me. Reaching my feet, his gaze drifted back until he reached my lips. Fighting the urge to lick my lips, I dug my nails into my palms instead. Not being able to take the silence, or his wandering eyes any longer, I said the first thing that popped into my head. “I hope this is okay. . .me leaving the room.”

The moment I said it, I could have slapped myself. ‘I hope it’s okay’. Thirty minutes ago, I was ready to punch someone, and now I’m suddenly submissive? Nevertheless, my words seemed to break him from his trance. “Hmmmmm..... oh yeah. Feel free to use the kitchen, living room, library. I don’t want you to feel like you’re trapped here.” Raising his eyes to a more respectful level he smiled before walking passed me. Stopping in front of his door he turned, to look back at me. “Please stay inside the house though. I don’t want you on the grounds without an escort. You smell. . . unfamiliar to the pack, and it may cause trouble.” Nodding, he looked me over once more before retreating to his room.

Relieved, I headed down the stairs slowly, trying to figure out what I would do with the day. Although Zach had granted me permission to use the house, I figured I would still end up spending the day in my room. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I followed the light, and the intoxicating smell of maple bacon to the kitchen. Entering the kitchen, I found a plate of bacon, a platter of pancakes and a bowl of freshly scrambled eggs waiting on the counter. Remembering the almost empty fridge from the night before, I wondered who had gone out to buy and prepare all this so early in the morning. The rustle of the morning paper, had me turning to the island, where Patrick was busy finishing off his plate as well as the business section. Lifting a steaming mug of what smelled like strong black coffee to his lips, he eyed me coolly.

Remembering everything I had said last night, I almost groaned. Another awkward encounter. It was way too early to be dealing with this shit. “Morning.” I said quietly as I grabbed a plate from the island and filled it with a couple of pancakes, bacon, and a scoop full of eggs. Patrick merely grunted in response. Turning on my inner Man-alizer, I determined it wasn’t an angry grunt but more of a ′ you can’t expect me to be awake and social this early’ grunt. A sound I had made all too often. Eyeing a few mugs placed by the coffee maker, I grabbed one and filled my cup with dark deliciousness, hoping the brew would cure more than my fatigue.

Looking around for a place to sit, I noticed paperwork was stacked on the dining table in the room next to us and Patrick’s briefcase was placed in the seat next to him. I deeply contemplated eating my breakfast standing when, without looking up from his paper, Patrick slammed his hand down on the spot across from him and then wiggled his fingers for me to come sit. Walking up to the spot slowly, I was vaguely reminded of my first day at a new high school, where approaching and sitting at an already occupied table was terrifying. Looking back, I couldn’t decide whether I would want to face reliving that, or having to sit across from Patrick. Sitting down, I took a sip of my coffee before I began nibbling on a piece of bacon. I was half way through my first piece when the slam of the back door had me jumping out of my seat.

Heavy footsteps pounded towards the kitchen. “Morning Jeremy.” Patrick called; nose still buried so deep in the business page that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he ended up with a mouthful of it. “Good morning to you sir, and miss.” Jeremy gave a quick bow before grabbing a plate and piling it high with food. If I hadn’t seen his scary side, I would have never believed Jeremy was capable of the fear he had inflicted in me just a few days prior.

Moving Patrick’s briefcase Jeremy slid into the seat next to him before he began happily munching on his own bacon. “Sleep well?” He asked me causally. Swallowing a rather large bite of pancake I cleared my throat loudly before responding “It was okay.” “I’m sure you’ll sleep better once you get more settled.” He said before taking a large slurp of his coffee. Settled. The word almost made me shiver. How long would I be here? I almost groaned thinking about it.

“Speaking of getting settled. Would it be possible for me to have my phone back? I really need to call my boss and get some time off before I get fired.” “Mmmmmmm!” Jeremy swallowed a mouthful of eggs “That has already been taken care of. You know, you had racked up an ungodly amount of vacation time.” I could feel my eye twitch. “Oh. Good. Yeah it’s not like I was saving that up to take an actual vacation or something.” I grumbled, thinking about the days I had come into the office with tissues shoved up my nose just trying to avoid taking a sick day. Yep, this was exactly what I had worked so hard for.

Sensing my sarcasm, Jeremy chortled. Struggling to keep the conversation alive, I audibly sighed my relief when the rhythmic sound of footsteps neared the kitchen. Lifting his eyes from mine, Jeremy smiled at the newcomer, who upon entering, paused. Feeling the weight of his eyes on my back, my body stiffened and my mind went blank. “Morning crew!” Zach greeted cheerfully, lifting his gaze, and the weight from my shoulders as his eyes roamed the kitchen. Folding his newspaper, Patrick rose from his seat and took his empty mug and plate to the sink. Coming back for his briefcase, he made his way to the front of the house. Zach, motioning to Patrick to go without him, moved to the edge of the island, where he could face both Jeremy and I.

" Adeline.” The way he said my name, so softly, brought my eyes to his. The moment our eyes locked the image of him shirtless, body glistening in rock hard perfection, came to mind. Breaking eye contact, I feigned a cough to hide my rosy cheeks. He raised an eyebrow at me and smiled cheekily. Sirens went off in my head, and all rational thoughts fled to escape the fire that was my own embarrassment and paranoia. The latter of those emotions hissed that I had been caught fantasizing about him, the former reminded me that he was a werewolf and not a mind reader and that I was just embarrassing myself.

Snapping myself out of my inner drama, I managed to nod to him in acknowledgment. Leaning in, he rested his hands on the quartz countertop, his fingers almost touching mine. I fought the urge to snatch my hand back, while simultaneously instinct demanded that I close the distance between us, the sizzle of electricity between us tempting me closer. “Jeremy will be staying with you today and escorting you to your appointments.” I felt my eyebrows scrunch in confusion.

“Appointments?” I muttered under my breath. Choosing to ignore me, Zach looked to Jeremy “Please get her to medical on time, Joanne is incredibly busy.” Jeremy gave a small salute. “I just got here last night; how do I already have ‘appointments’?” I asked, voicing the first of many questions. “Your arrival was . . . anticipated.” Zach answered while a small smile tugged at his lips. So he was that sure they would catch me. The hand closest to him twitched into a fist. Audacious bastard. I itched to slap the smug right off his face.

Seeing the look on my face, Zach’s smile fell. Before I had the chance to ask any more questions Zach turned on his heel and left the kitchen. “You better run.” I muttered to myself, only to have Jeremy chortle, which turned into a choke as he had a mouthful of coffee. After coughing up what had to be his right lung, he turned to me and said, “He could hear you, you know.” Getting up to put my dishes in the sink I growled “stupid werewolf hearing.” “You’ve got it too.” Jeremy pointed out. Sighing at my own stupidity, I leaned against the sink. “Yeah, I know, I’m not used to being around others who can use it too.” Nodding his head in understanding, he put his dirty dishes away before checking out the time on the stove.

“How did you get stuck as the guard dog?” I asked trying to fill the silence and let him know I understood his position. “Picked the short straw.” He answered back instantly. A challenge. “I guess you better start preparing your story now then.” “Story?” Jeremy turned to me, head tilted and brows crinkled. “Yeah. Your boss is going to want to know how you managed to lose me twice.” I retorted. Waiting for his response, I was surprised by the slow smile that crept over his face. “This is going to be fun” he said wickedly. “I’m glad one of us is enjoying this.” I muttered before heading for the living room. Today was going to be a long day. I could already tell.

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