Chapter Fifteen - Abduction
It’s the end of Charlotte’s first day back and it’s gone exactly to plan. No one has challenged her since that incident with Abbi. Shona and friends walked by, saying nothing. Abbi rushed past heels clacking, hugging her books, Tessa following, with a look of confusion. But there’s no glorious victory in being ignored. What’s worse is the huge, blob-like weight of her own body. Walking down the hall is like pushing through thick gloop, dragging a couple of cars behind her. As she lumbers up the corridor, trying to appear pert and dignified, something Gabe said keeps pinging around inside her skull with annoying frequency - It costs you to use it. Every time.
Gabe shares only two of her classes: English and Geography. In Geography he sat mute, taking notes. Everyone was looking at Charlotte and Gabe, like they expected something, but Gabe seemed distracted, sullen. They barely said a word to each other. Charlotte is convinced he is sulking. But what if he’s right about the cost of using her extraordinary power?
Charlotte dumps her bag onto the passenger seat of her car and gets in slowly like a stiff, old woman. The engine purrs as she leaves the parking lot and heads home. Normally she would take Crossgate Path, a wide, smooth highway and turn off at Darlington Road, leading her straight to the hallowed cove of Elvet Hill. Today, despite the awkward heaviness of changing gears and braking, when turning the wheel feels like she’s lifting a piano, she finds herself dawdling around Quarryheads Lane into Potters Bank Road past St Mary’s University.
Her car slows as she glides past the clutch of stone houses corralled by a low stone wall on university grounds. Without thinking about it, she pulls over to the kerb. Gabe’s house is at the front, like a bodyguard facing the world. The second storey windows stare out confidently from their lofty niches in the tiled roof. Does one of them belong to Gabe? Does he stand there late at night, looking out over the landscape?
What the hell am I doing here?
She knows she’s hurt his feelings, telling him to butt out when he was only trying to look after her. But why does he feel the need to look after her? There’s a rebellious streak in Charlotte that emerges when she doesn’t get her own way. She knows it. She’s used it to her advantage with her father hundreds of times. But right now as she stares at Gabe’s house she wishes she could take back what she said. Despite her victory over Abbi, it feels hollow. Victory over what? A spoiled rich kid with no real friends and fake everything. Abbi doesn’t even realise how pathetic she is. So what did I gain by beating her into submission? Charlotte thinks about Ruby Reynolds and the look of adoration upon her little face. She pictures Ruby dead in the morgue, her head caved in, her parents hysterical. That’s what it would have been, if I hadn’t rescued her. Is this what my life is meant to be like now? Saving people? Using this weird, amazing power and then suffering afterward? Charlotte raises a hand to her head. The painkillers are wearing off. The nausea is returning. She has to get home.
She’s about to turn the ignition key when she sees something in the side mirror. A woman is walking up the footpath but she doesn’t turn into the university. She walks right up to Charlotte’s car and raps on the window. Charlotte’s finger feels thick and uncoordinated as she presses the button. The window glides down and the woman leans in to talk. She’s dressed like a receptionist, hair in a blonde bun, her face benign.
“Are you all right?” she says, her accent foreign.
“I’m fine. Just dropped a friend off, that’s all. Thanks. Bye.” Charlotte’s finger presses down on the button to wind the window up again. But there’s resistance. Confused, she looks up. The woman’s hand is on the window, pushing down hard. And there’s a determined look upon her face which is not very receptionist-like at all. Panicking, Charlotte locks the doors. But the woman has already grasped the inside door handle, opened it and seated herself.
“Let us have a chat,” she says.
“Get out of my car!” blurts Charlotte.
“My employer is very interested in meeting you. You have such... unique talents.”
“Get out! Before I call the cops!” Charlotte reaches for her bag, but the woman snatches it.
“That will not be necessary. When we have finished with you, we will send you home again,” she says calmly.
Finished with you? Charlotte imagines herself tied to a chair in a pool of glaring light, her captors circling, torture implements laid out on a nearby table. She starts hyperventilating and as the dizziness worsens, reprimands herself. Control your breathing, idiot! Do something useful! But how can she escape by creating a bubble around her car when the woman is inside it?
“My name is Anna Povic,” says the woman pleasantly, like she’s meeting Charlotte in a coffee shop. “I work for the GSA, the Genetic Security Alliance. It is a large, multinational corporation dedicated to maintaining genetic diversity and seeking out new DNA variations. You, my dear, are of particular interest.” Her voice is light, non-threatening, but Charlotte feels the danger creeping up her spine. What can I do? How can I get rid of her?
“Drive,” says the woman. “I will give you directions.” She nods at the key still dangling in the ignition.
Charlotte’s hand turns the key, her mind foggy. The pain in her skull is reverberating, sending jolts down every nerve to her extremities. Her joints ache. The motor is humming. Her head is spinning.
“Turn right at the end of the street,” says Anna Povic, pointing up the road.
“I... can’t drive.” Charlotte puts a hand to her head, wishing she could just lie down.
“Your little tactics will fail to work with me.”
“I’m serious... I don’t feel well,” whispers Charlotte, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“You will drive.”
Charlotte squeezes her eyes shut. I have to do something, get this cow out of my fricken car! Then, she feels an almighty slap across the face and her eyes snap open. She can’t believe it! Anna Povic, witch-like, raises her hand again, ready to strike. And that’s when Charlotte, despite the pain, despite the overwhelming heaviness in her body, gets angry. Her teeth clenched, she closes her eyes and focuses upon expelling the woman from her car. She doesn’t know how, she just thinks it with all her remaining strength. A rushing sound envelopes them. A wind from nowhere. Then, a harsh withdrawal of air like a giant vacuum. A faint scream trails away to silence as Charlotte opens her eyes.
Anna Povic is gone. Far up the road a figure is sprawled, motionless. A motorcyclist clad in black lingers for a moment, then drives away, the fat sound of his exhaust pipe echoing off stone buildings. Charlotte slumps sideways. Her lungs are heavy, her breath rasping in and out. Vomit is rising in her throat. She opens the driver’s door and spews onto the road. Unable to right herself or even wipe her face, she hangs there, fingers gripped tight around the door handle. She’s too weak to even care about the humiliation of it all.
“Charlotte!” Heavy footsteps are pounding towards her. Hands lift her stone body out of the car. She’s held tight to his chest, feels his heart beating as he runs. His smell. His warmth. Her lips are too stiff to speak. A collage of truncated words, light, sensations float in and out of her consciousness. A woman’s worried voice. A cool hand upon her forehead. Urgent instructions. And then the feel of a soft, beckoning bed beneath her. With superhuman strength, she summons her eyes to open. Gabe is leaning over her, his face white. He strokes her forehead. Then all goes black.
A female voice, pleasant like a sunny day, is making its gentle way through the dark fog. Charlotte opens her eyes. A youngish woman with dark hair is sitting on the bed, her hand cradling Charlotte’s.
“Ah, so you’re awake. How are you feeling, Charlotte?”
“Are you Gabe’s mum?” she whispers.
“Yes. I’m Josie. You’ve been asleep for a few hours. Your father has been and gone home again.”
“Dad? Why has he...”
Josie pushes a strand of hair away from Charlotte’s eyes.
“It’s all right. He’ll be back. He thought it best to leave you here.”
“Oh.” Charlotte’s eyes flick around the room. Daylight has gone but the bedside lamp emits a cheery golden glow. Tiny flowers embroider the walls. It’s a very pleasant room. Charlotte sighs.
“When’s he coming back?”
“Around eight o’clock.”
Charlotte has a snatch of a memory, of sounds, of a faint scream. She swallows with difficulty.
“What woman?” Josie looks confused.
Josie shakes her head gently.
“There was no one outside when Gabe arrived home from school. Only your car, parked out front.”
Charlotte closes her eyes. Speaking seems to cost so much energy. So I DID get rid of her! But now there’ll be hell to pay. Twice in one day. I’ll just rest my eyes for a minute.
It’s dark outside when Charlotte wakes to the sound of people arguing. Grunting, as she pushes against the force of gravity, she slowly drags her body to a sitting position. There’s a jug of water and glass on the small table beside the bed. Stretching towards it feels like she’s strapped to the top of a ship’s mast in a storm, reaching for the sky. Shakily, she pours and gulps gratefully. It’s going to take a minute or two before she can do more. The cheery room looks like it was meant for a girl. Does Gabe have a sister? There’s so much she doesn’t know about him. At least he has a nice mother. Ok. Ready. She plants both feet on the carpet, pushes her hands into the bed and stands up. The room spins, squelching to one end then releasing like a psychedelic dream sequence. She sways a bit, but Charlotte is determined to find out who’s in the next room. She shuffles next door, leans on the doorframe to get her breath. Gabe and the geeks are hunched over their laptops. There’s papers, playing cards, paints and other equipment strewn everywhere. Gonzo suddenly yells for joy.
“Ha! Gut wound. Where’s your magic sword now, sucker?”
“What are you doing?” Charlotte croaks. They all turn to her.
“You’re up!” Gabe launches to his feet, tumbling his laptop to the floor. Bird grimaces and leans over to gingerly pick it up.
“I heard you guys arguing.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Gabe is standing awkwardly. “You should be lying down. Resting.”
She looks up at him defiantly.
“I’m fine. Stop fussing.” Gonzo gives an amused snort. Even Bird’s face has the ghost of a smile. But neither meet her gaze. “What?” says Charlotte, hand on hip.
“So you’re feeling better then,” says Gabe, grinning. He indicates a flat box on the floor. “Want some pizza?” Charlotte grimaces. It looks cold and congealed.
“I’ll let Mum know you’re awake. I’m sure she can whip up something.”
Charlotte sways a bit, reaches out to grab his sleeve.
“Don’t go to any trouble, ok? I should be getting home anyway.”
“Your dad is fine with you staying here another night. He’s working late anyway. He’s really worried about you.”
“I know. He always worries.” She grins feebly. “Another night? How long was I asleep?”
“All day yesterday and most of today.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry. But, er, you might want to put some more clothes on though.”
“Huh?” She looks down. She’s wearing a huge black tee shirt with ‘Harley Davidson’ written in gold. And her underpants.
“Argh! Why didn’t you tell me?” She yanks down the hem of the tee shirt. “Where are my clothes?”
“On the chair in the bedroom,” says Gabe, disappearing down the stairs.