Chapter 3: House
The hand proved to belong to a young man, who seemed to care very little for Kai’s comfort, and more for her bag, which he slung up upon his back, while dragging Kai roughly behind him. Kai jerked in his hold, feeling much like the prey of a pack of wolves as the man’s fellows emerged from the trees.
The man gave Kai a light, though rough, shake, “Age?”
Kai shook her head.
She was shaken again, this time without any hint of gentleness.
“She’s young.” He called back, beginning to walk toward his fellows -- two in number.
Kai found herself nearly jogging to keep up with him, her legs were much shorter, as she barely reached up to his shoulder. Her free hand, her non-dominant left, scrabbled toward the knife at her hip, praying that it was still there. It was, though it was difficult to reach without crossing her arm in front of her body.
“What’s she doing?”
Kai quickly found her knife wrestled away from her by a smaller man, one who smelled faintly of cigarettes and wore gloves on his hands, one of which clasped around her wrist. Kai let out a grunt as her weapon was taken, curling her lips into a sneer. Now was not the time to seem weak, now was the time to seem aloof and unafraid, and most importantly, undesirable.
“Name?” The tall man holding her gave her yet another light shake
Kai shook her head, in general, she did not care who knew her name, but the shaking and rough handling annoyed her
“Doesn’t matter.” The other man, one who sounded older and perhaps mildly ill, recovering from a cold, perhaps, spoke, “She’ll be gone in the morning.”
Fear jolted through Kai like a bolt of lightning, and she struggled against the man’s hold, which only tightened as his other hand shot out to snatch her free arm. She threw her leg back, aiming to hit him in the knee, though her foot connected with his upper thigh. The man grunted, though his grip did not loosen, rather it tightened, his nails digging into her upper arms.
“What’s wrong, girl?” The cigarette man chuckled, “One of those runners?”
“Clearly.” The man holding Kai’s arms spoke for her, beginning to walk, “No point being out here any longer. It’s cold.”
“You’re right. Let’s get her inside, I’m tired.”
The walk out of the forest was surprisingly quiet, save for the slightly labored breathing of the older man. Their destination, much to Kai’s dismay, was a cabin with boarded-up windows and a door with many locks. It was clear these people didn’t intend for anyone to break in, or out, for that matter. In the light of the lantern hanging on the porch, Kai could see the features of her captors. All three men seemed to share the same brown eyes and brown-blonde hair, perhaps they were two brothers and a father. The man who had taken her knife leaned in close as his perceived father began work on the locks.
“She’s kind of pretty.”
“She’s a child.” The man behind her at least had a calm, tired voice. Kai hoped that she’d at least be interacting with this one.
“Not technically.” Cigarette man leered, his teeth were yellowed, just as Kai had expected. It seemed he hadn’t shaved in some time, as a patchy stubble covered the lower half of his face. His nose was slightly crooked, leaning toward the left. He looked around thirty or so, older than she’d expected. Kai’s gaze flicked down to his forearm, curious to see if this person had somehow been chosen. Spotting her looking, the man only laughed, rolling his sleeve up.
Six beads sat just below the skin, blue, green, red, purple, yellow and black. It seemed that this man’s exterior, coupled with what Kai had deemed to be an ugly personality, had earned him six rejections, lined up neatly beneath the skin. Her lips curled into an involuntary smile, it seemed the very creatures she hated, found this man insufferable as well.
“I get another chance.” He growled, noticing Kai’s amusement, “The beads turn white when the wait time is up.”
Kai shrugged and gave a final mocking grin as the door opened and she was dragged inside, it seemed the repulsive man’s brother didn’t even want to give her a chance to walk. Without further discussion, Kai was hoisted into his arms and carried down a flight of stairs, into a rather damp basement. She was deposited at the bottom as the man moved to the top of the stairs to lock the door, once again turning to her.
“I’m sorry.” The man raked a hand down his face, his fingers settling to pinch the bridge of his nose, “All of this, it’s so fucked.”
“You got beads too?”
The man just squinted at her, as if he was expecting her to accept his apology. He sat silent for a moment, as if regrouping his thoughts and trying to formulate a response.
“No. We give them people. They ignore that I’m here.” He paused, examining Kai’s face, “They seem to like young women.” Another pause, “But you already know that.”
She nodded, her gaze flicking back to her bag, which still sat perched on his shoulder.
“Can I have my bag?”
He paused, clearly debating, “If you give me your name.”
Kai bit the inside of her cheek, debating. Her false name was meant to be a defense, and yet, she did not want to give it. Her lack of name, to these people, at least, made her unfamiliar and untouchable. Then again, her true name, and her few belongings, resided within that bag.
“Kai. Isn’t that a boy’s name?” He shook his head, sliding her pack from his shoulders and setting it on the ground, “I’m James.”
“James,” Kai repeated the name, “How old are you?”
“And you’re not looking for one of them?”
James leaned back against a pillar, one that seemed to be supporting a good amount of the basement’s ceiling, “No. Not yet, I’m not interested in love right now.”
Kai chose to overlook the irony of that statement, instead drawing a deep breath that gave way to a large and genuine yawn. She itched to dig through her bag, to retrieve the ID card and hide it within her jacket pocket. Instead, she kept her steady gazy on James.
“Are you tired?”
Kai slowly nodded.
“I’ll set you up a cot. There’s a toilet and sink around the corner. Nothing too fancy, I’m afraid. Might be some spiders.”
Spiders had never bothered Kai, at least no more than the idea of being given to a pack of literal aliens as a wife.
She watched as James turned the corner, and then fell on her pack with all the desperation of a starved wolf falling upon meat.