Chapter Two – A New Year

   The intense fear for her life began to slowly drift away. Devon’s arms began to loosen, letting go of the protective grip around her abdomen. The heat of the animal’s panting breath on her cheek was now replaced by a warm breeze. Her skin was comforted by the sunlight and the orange glow coming from beyond her eyelids. As she began to relax she inhaled deeply; the strong scent of grass and earth flooded in and the last of her fear vanished. Blurred hues danced across her eyelashes as they fluttered open, blinking several times to focus. Devon was still laying on her stomach, she kept her body still, looking around to see if the beast was gone. There was no sign of the creature in front of her. Instead of the cold concrete patio, blades of dewy grass tickled her cheek. Devon’s strength was returning. No longer did she feel the physical pain or mental anguish that had overtaken her moments ago. She pushed herself up on her side, steadying herself to get a better look at her surroundings. Devon was captivated by the scenery around her; she was sitting in a circular clearing encompassed by towering oak trees. There was just enough room between the trunks for Devon to catch a glimpse at the landscape beyond. Patches of green grass and rolling rock studded hillsides stretched out in every direction with no signs of houses or cities anywhere. The branches had naturally woven together, forming an archway above her.
  Even her clothing had changed; instead of her blood-soaked jeans and winter attire, her body was now covered in a white lace cotton dress. A feeling of deja-vu overwhelmed her. Devon tried to place her whereabouts, yet she couldn’t seem to draw anything from her memories. Why had she felt so afraid? Despite the beauty, something about her surroundings felt wrong, as though she wasn’t supposed to be here. Devon remembered feeling terrified, but she couldn’t remember why.
  Devon ran her hand down the softness of the gown and along the blades of grass, a vision swam before her eyes, making her flinch. For only a brief second she not only saw but felt as if her hand was sunk into a gaping abdomen. She could see the corpse below her, with the blood spreading out around the hardwood floor. A flood of images brought her back to that awful night. “Derrick!” Devon had forgotten. How could she forget? Even more disturbing images of Jackson being ripped apart slipped into her mind. Overwhelmed by a mixture of fear and solitude, the two realities around her began to collide. In a panic, she rose to her feet, spinning around to search for signs of danger. How did she get here? And more importantly, where was here?
  The golden sunlight darkened into a red glow. All around the grass were fallen soldiers, piled wet with blood. A tang of iron carried on the breeze made the bile roll in her stomach. These were not Devon’s memories, and they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. A sharp pain pierced her temple, shooting down her head and across to her shoulder. Devon pulled at the neckline of the white gown exposing her shoulder, inspecting the spot where the beast had torn her open. It was gone. They were all gone. There was no blood. All of the injuries that she remembered from that night: vanished.
  Devon took a few deep breaths, getting control over her fear. Panic began to slowly diminish into confusion while she tried to make sense of how she got here. What was this lingering feeling of deja-vu? Where did a vision of a battlefield come from? Even the air was too warm to be December: where was the cold of winter that burned her cheeks?
  Could it all have been a nightmare? Had she imagined the horrific evening? Hope filled her. Could Derrick still be alive?
  The wind picked up, swaying the tops of the trees around her. At the end of the clearing, a massive oak tree stood high above the rest. How had she not noticed it earlier? She was fascinated by the patterns formed by the deep grooves in its trunk. Drawn to it, Devon crossed the clearing, watching as a face emerged within the patterns of the bark. The creases had become wrinkles and the wood crevasses were long braided hair that draped down to the bottom of the tree, creating its roots. Devon reached out her hand to touch them when as strong wind rushed across the clearing from behind her. All of the tree’s large branches swayed violently, joined by the other trees around her. Devon was forced to shield her eyes as beams of light broke through pockets in the leaves, temporarily distracting her.
  “Hello.”
  Devon jumped, looking back to see who had spoken. At the other end of the clearing was a small, fair-skinned boy with dark hair. He was dressed all in white, and his shirt had rope lacing up to the neckline, slightly open. His attire appeared to be the same material and look as Devon’s gown. With her best guess, she figured he could be no older than six, possibly five.
  His expression was open and innocent. The boy tilted his head up towards her as he gave her a shy smile. Devon looked back at the tree to find that the face of the old man in the bark was gone, along with the strange feeling drawing her to it. Only she and the boy remained inside the clearing.
  “Why… hello.” Devon turned back greeting him as a deep sense of disorientation came over her. The same mix of the deja-vu and the solitude she felt earlier had returned. Still the boy only continued smiling, cocking his head from side to side like a small pup.
  “Do you know where we are?” she asked. “Is your family around?”
  “Yes,” He answered without hesitation.
  “Yes, you know where we are? Devon was not sure which question he was answering.
  The boy nodded his head as he looked out around the clearing. Squinting in childish contemplation, he seemed to come to a conclusion “I think this is a memory,”.
  His odd statement made sense to her when she thought about it. This must be some kind of dream and not the waking world. With slight hesitation, Devon began to let go of her grasp of familiar logic and the pain of the real world she was grateful to be away from.
  “I don’t think this could be my memory.” She said looking around for some kind of landmark, something that might remind her, but there was nothing. “I’m sure that I’ve never been here before.”
  Something pulled at the back of her mind as she said the words out loud. A sudden sense of guilt as if catching herself in a lie. “Maybe I have?” Devon crossed the grass, stopping in front of the boy as she slowly knelt down to meet his gaze.
  “So what do you think?” She asked him. “If this isn’t my memory, then is this a dream?”
  “Both I think.” The boy said, shrugging his shoulders.
  Devon took his answer at face value. She had a feeling that he knew more about this place than she did. Everything around her was so vivid, realer than any dream that she could recall. Was she in a coma, and this some sort of hallucination? Was she dead?
  She searched the boy’s face for an answer, studying him. He was very delicate, almost androgynous in nature. There was something deep in his expression that seemed to surpass his age. It was his eyes that caught her attention the most, peering out from underneath the shaggy brown hair that hung loosely over his pale forehead. They were dark with streaks of vibrant green detail, surrounded by flecks of gold that reflected in the sunlight.
  Devon felt maternal, in a big sister kind of way when it came to children. She was always the one that would protect the other kids in the foster homes; the ones who were too young to defend themselves. Yet something was different, Devon felt something more for this boy as she resisted the urge to wrap her arms protectively around him.
  “So who are you supposed to be in all of this?” Devon was curious about what the boy represented to her mind. “Another memory?
  The boy blushed at her question, keeping his eyes on hers. “No, but that is not important now. This is your mind and I am just a visitor.”
  Devon reached towards the boy, her vision shifting again. This time, the clearing had become a white tiled room and her outstretched arms were covered in blood. As Devon stumbled she placed her hands on the boy’s shoulders to steady herself. As quickly as the image had come, it was gone, drifting away and leaving her with a sense of dread. If this was a dream, what would she find when she woke up?
  The boy’s smile dimmed as if he was able to experience the same images and emotions as Devon. He took her hands from his shoulders, keeping her gaze as he held them. “It will be all right. When everything is at its darkest, that is the moment when true change can happen. When it does, it will be your choice on how you will change it.”
  Devon was reassured by his words; her sense of dread left her as easily as the clouds that passed overhead. Devon leaned forward and kissed the boy’s forehead. “Thank you. Still, I feel as if I know you.”
  The boy smiled back “You do, but not yet.”
   

 

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  Devon’s eyes flashed opened. The sun’s rays, the clearing, and the boy were gone. Instead, the soft blue haze of the moon illuminated the dark room around her. This time, she knew that she was truly awake. Her eyes were already adjusted, and despite the dimness of night, she found she was able to clearly see around her. Several large down pillows cradled her body, propping her up in a strange four-post bed. Unlike the clearing from her dream, Devon felt no sense of familiarity. She knew she had never been here before. The walls were wood paneling, carved to matched the large four-post bed that held her. Across the ceiling, she could make out the shine of metal panels and two large glass hanging lamps. One right above her and the other just ahead closer to a large metal door. The whole room was illuminated by the night sky shining in through a wall of windows to her left.
  “Hello?” Her voice echoed in the large room. Devon sat up, sliding her leg out the side of the blanket draped across her. Looking down, she realized that she was dressed in the same white gown she had worn in her dream. This was a coincidence that made Devon very uneasy. She lightly performed a quick self-examination on her shoulder and body. Just like her dream Devon’s shoulder was unharmed, not even a scratch. Fully sliding herself to the edge of the bed she placed both feet on the floor and stood up. Lifting the gown up above her knees, she found no bruising or damage anywhere. With everything she experienced trying to escape Derrick’s condo, how was she not hooked up to some kind of life support machine? If this was a hospital, it was unlike any she had ever seen.
  “Hello?” She called out again. Devon could hear no signs of life except the settling of the house; floorboards creaking beneath her, and the draft coming through the sealed windows. These were sounds she normally would not have noticed, and she briefly wondered why they were so present to her ears. She assumed it was a side effect of some sort of medication or waking up from having slept all day. But if she was on medication, wouldn’t she be hooked up to an IV drip?
  On her wrist, Devon felt something give a slight tug as she dropped her arm. Rather than the standard loop of marked plastic she had expected, she wore a metal bracelet. In the moonlight, she could see symbols carved beautifully all over the band. Devon had no idea what these symbols meant as her fingers traced over the cool surface. She moved the bracelet back and forth, feeling its weight. Devon twisted and turned it only to find there was no clasp or connection that would allow her to remove it. She tried to pull it off, but no matter how tightly she brought her fingers together it wouldn’t budge.
  There wasn’t anything else she could do besides inspect the large room. Devon also wanted to make sure that she was completely alone. There were no closets, and the only furniture she could see was the oversized bed and a dresser in one corner. Satisfied that no one else was with her, Devon moved closer to inspect the metal door. Where the door handle should have been, Devon found a large circular disk bolted in its place. Finding out that she was locked in made Devon panic. Fear began to rise within her, as she fought to keep control of her emotions. To her right was a small round object attached to the wall. Assuming it was some sort of call button for the hospital staff, she pushed on it. Nothing happened, there was no movement inward. She placed her fingers on it, feeling for some sort of movement. Grasping its edges, Devon gave it a turn.
  Light blazed from above, and she jumped at the sight of a ghostly visitor by the dresser that disappeared as she turned. Devon laughed quietly, feeling embarrassed as she stepped back to look at herself in the mirror. Below where her reflection hung, Devon was able to finally see the beauty of the dresser and the room around her. The ornate carvings matched the large high posts of the bedframe, tying the whole room together. On the top left of the dresser, lay a small stack of neatly folded black clothing, topped with a plain white note. Next to it Devon could see a washcloth rolled up under the rim of a gold and white porcelain basin, inside that stood a matching decanter. Above her, the ceilings were covered in large bronze metal tiles; the decor was definitely not that of a hospital.
  When she reached for the decanter, a glint from the folded card redirected her hand. Lifting the note, she could see some kind of gold script written on the top side. For Devon, was the only writing to appear, its underside was untouched and equally cryptic as the room around her. Her eyebrows lifted in uncertainty as she placed the note to the side of the clothing. Alone and no sign of cameras, Devon slowly pulled the white gown over her head and tossed it onto the ground beside her. “What kind of messed up hospital is this?” she asked aloud, refusing to consider any other alternative.
  Dressed in the plain black tracksuit, she turned her attention back to the metal door. In an echo of the previous night’s events, she leaned her ear up against the cold steel to see if she could make out any sounds from the hallway behind. There were no voices; the only sound Devon could hear was the hum of electricity running through the lights above her.
  “Hello?” she called louder, slamming her hands against the door. “Is there anybody out there?”
  A long moment passed as she stood biting her lip, waiting for the sound of footsteps rushing to answer her. As the silence stretched out, she punched at the door. It hurt a lot less than she expected, so she punched it again in frustration. “Damn it” she sighed. As she paced the room in front of the door, the creaking of the old wooden floors pulled at her nerves.
  The floorboards were as old as the furniture, nothing in this room made any sense. What is this place? Devon supposed it could be a private clinic; perhaps a heritage home converted into a care facility. The cost for something this fancy would be well above what her father could afford, and why was there no handle on the door? What kind of care facility would lock someone in that was a victim? She was scared and confused and her fear was growing into paranoia. Turning her attention from the door, she crossed the rooms to the windows. The first one had a large, old-fashioned brass latch. It turned easily, so she tugged at the window ledge only to find it jammed. The rattling above was the real problem; brass padlocks gleamed just above where the two windows met. Devon’s eyes glanced over at the other windows confirming her suspicion: they were all the same. “Comforting,” she thought tugging firmly on the lock above.
  Before she could test the next window she was stopped by approaching voices. She could clearly hear three people speaking as they walked towards the room. Surprisingly, their voices were not muffled by the thick door. Devon could tell they were at the end of the hallway yet it was as if they were in the room with her: two men and the softer notes of a younger woman. Their conversation was held in subdued tones and not the lighthearted banter between co-workers.
  “I’m not ok with her going in there alone, not after what happened,” said one of the men. His voice was tense and aggravated.
  “Dad I’m ok. She can’t hurt me. Please calm down, I can handle this,” replied the female of the group.
  “With just Keryn in the room she won’t feel as threatened,” said the final voice of the three.
   Well, you just screwed that one up, pal. Devon rolled her eyes at the man’s comment.
   The conversation ended with the metal grinding from the deadbolt as it turned inside the door. It was deafening, and Devon covered her ears to block out the high pitched sound. Tense with apprehension, she dashed away from the window towards the bed. Pressing her back up against the large wood post so she could keep it protected, she steeled herself to face whoever was about to enter.
  The door pushed inward only a few feet before stopping. From behind it peeked the face of a young, frail looking girl.
She smiled politely. “May I come in?” she asked in a gentle voice.  
  Despite her fear, Devon felt a touch of relief at the sight of her. Something about the girls face seemed familiar.
  Devon nodded at her lowering her hands from her ears.
  The girl opened the door wider, stepping into the room. Behind her, Devon could make out the wood paneling in the hallway, but couldn’t see either of the men who had spoken. The girl was a similar height to Devon; her build was slender and fair. They were also around the same age, though the girl could possibly be a year or two younger. Shining like a bolt of satin fabric, her dark brown hair hung long and straight, under the glow of the overhead light.
  In one hand she carried a matching decanter to the one on the dresser and in her other a large drinking glass. Condensation dripped down the porcelain, splashing onto the wood floor next to her feet. Devon hadn’t realized until that moment just how thirsty she really was.
  Pushing the door closed with her foot, the girl made her way over to the dresser. Somehow, she gave the subtle impression that she was Devon’s guest, rather than the other way around. “It is good to see that you are finally awake. We were starting to worry about you,” she said timidly.
  The young woman’s concern was sincere, she even ducked her head bowing as she passed. This display of submissiveness gave Devon the courage she needed. “Why would I feel threatened?” she looked at the girl pointedly.
  The girl was taken back at the sound of her tone. With her back to Devon, she fumbled as she quickly replaced the decanter of water with the one already on the dresser. The glass wobbled as the girl almost knocked it over. Catching it with her free hand, she placed it gently beside the pitcher. As she lifted her head, she looked at Devon through the reflection of the dresser’s mirror. “You’re safe, I promise,” she said. Taking the empty jug, she turned and headed for the door, keeping her eyes lowered and her back close to the wall. Sensing the girl’s nervousness, Devon decided to take advantage of this leverage. Moving closer, she put her arm out against the wall to block the girl’s retreat. Finally having a target, she unleashed the questions that crowded her mind. “That’s far enough. I want answers!”
  “I…we…” The girl stumbled with her words, but Devon kept on.
  “Who are you people and what happened to me? Is this a hospital? Why am I locked in this room? Where is Derrick?”
  With the barrage of questions, Devon’s had finally dislodged the final memory of the previous night: his lifeless eyes filled her thoughts.
  “Oh, god Derrick…” she stumbled backwards away from the girl reeling with renewed shock.
  The look of remorse and sadness that clouded the girl’s face told Devon all she needed to know. It had really happened. Derrick was gone.
  The girl took this opportunity to make her way closer to the doorway. “I will probably get in trouble for this, but you are not in a hospital,” she said. “Please believe me when I say you’re in a safe place. Well, safer than a hospital would be.”
  Devon shook her head with a bitter laugh. “How can anyone feel safe when they are locked up in a room being held captive?” She stared at the girl hovering just beside the closed door, challenging her to offer some other explanation.
  Tears began to swell just beyond her eyelids as the girl avoided meeting Devon’s gaze. “Devon… what I meant to say is that it is safer for others.” Her response did not ease Devon’s confusion and mistrust. She knocked lightly on the door. “Everything will be explained, the best thing you can do for yourself is rest.”
  As the door opened fully, Devon could finally see one of the men she had only been able to hear from the hallway. The man was tall and broad, his hair was dark brown almost black with streaks of silver running down the sides. His build filled the door frame as he stepped out of the shadows into the room.
  His eyes were fixated on Devon. “That will be enough for now Keryn.” His tone was firm and defied argument.
  “Sorry, Rowland,” she said almost bowing her head.
  “Keryn, go downstairs and make Miss Andrews something to eat,” he commanded.
  Devon bristled at his tone. She was not one for authority figures, especially when they were chastising someone for offering some form of compassion. “Please,” Devon protested.
  “Excuse me?” Rowland looked at her, questioning her response.
  “Please, Keryn. If you’re going to ask people to do things, you could start by having some manners.” Devon said scolding the man.
  “Keryn, will you please go downstairs and get our guest some food,” He repeated.
  Devon could tell from his tone that correcting himself was something he was not used to doing.
  Keryn raised her head. She smiled as she looked back across the room at Devon. “I’ll be back in a bit with some food. You should really drink some water. You’ve been asleep for a while.”
  Awhile? Devon had assumed that what happened to her was only the night prior, but then how could it? Her wounds were all healed. “Wait, how long have I been here for?”
  The man interrupted with a gruff clearing of his throat. The sound seemed more like a sharp growl to her ears, causing Devon to tense. Keryn slipped past him out the door closing it behind her. Rowland took as few steps closer to Devon. Now that he stood before her, she was intimidated by the size of him. Still, he was an obstacle in the way of her freedom and the escape from the room that confined her. A big obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless.
&tbsp;&nbsp“Long enough,” He answered with a ring of finality to her question. Before she could respond, he continued “It is in your best interest to remain here in my home so that we may determine what kind of a threat you are.”
  “A threat?” Devon snapped. “I’m not a threat to anyone! Here or anywhere else. I was the one attacked, some animal killed my boyfriend. I had nothing to do with that.” Struggling to control herself, her voice began to break. Within the anger behind her words was the fear and shock of what happened to Derrick. Weakness was not something she was willing to show in front of her captor. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing how scared and uncertain she felt. Forcing herself not to cry, she longed for something familiar, some kind of connection with the life she knew.
  Devon ran her shaking hands over her face trying to regain her composure. “My dad!” Suddenly the memory of her father flooded her thoughts. “Oh my god my dad! He is going to be worried sick. I was supposed to call him that night to let him know I was ok.”
  “You will find that plan is ill advised.” Rowland’s words remained calm and collected.
  “You can’t just keep me here!” she shouted, striding forward into his range. “I have rights!” Confinement was something Devon was not willing to take lightly. She had learned long ago that she couldn’t back down from people like this. Her best bet at getting what she needed was to let him know he wouldn’t be able to dominate her the way he had Keryn.
  The man moved uncomfortably close, towering above Devon. His shadow covered her, blocking out the light above. “You will stay here until you have been assessed. Do I make myself clear?” His words rumbled through her chest, rubbing her already chafed nerves.
  Devon’s posture straightened, placing her hands on her hips as she leaned into what little space remained between them. Her voice took on a lethal certainty, “I don’t know who you think you are or who you think you’re trying to intimidate, but it won’t work. I have dealt with bigger assholes than you. Guys like you, trying to push girls around so you feel like some kind of a big man. I will not stand for you treating me or that other girl Keryn like this.”
  Rowland stood in place looking her up and down, regarding her with amused surprise. Coming to some kind of conclusion, he turned away from Devon and made his way across the room.
  Devon took after him. “Wait a minute, I’m not finished with you!” She shouted into his back as he reached the door giving it a knock.
  He turned to face her with a look of resignation, stopping her in her tracks. “Get some rest. We will continue our discussion when you have taken the time to calm yourself. Take my kindness while you have it. Continue this form of foul bedevilment and it will not end in your favor.” Rowland ended their conversation as it opened.
  Behind the door, Devon’s eyes were overwhelmed by the giant who opened it, allowing Rowland to leave. The man was easily 6’8” dwarfing Rowland’s already tall height of 6’4”. His massive red braided beard and matching long hair was enough to throw Devon’s focus as she stammered her words. The man huffed, glaring down at Devon as he reached forward grabbing the handle, pulling the door shut with a slam.
  Devon tried to rush the door but it was futile. She beat her hands against it, cursing herself for losing her focus. She could hear the metal inside the door locking, piercing her ears once more. Devon turned around, leaning against the metal giving it one hard kick with the bottom of her bare foot. “Shit.”
  There was no way she was going to stay here, not without answers. Devon rolled her head against the door, looking for something that could help her. Her sight landed on the old wooden dresser with the decanter on top. A sting formed at the back of her throat causing her to cough. All of the yelling had made her mouth and throat dry and aggravated. Her eyes fixated on the beading decanter of water as she rubbed at her throat. Devon made her way over to the dresser, picking up the decanter and filling the glass with its contents before placing it back into the basin. Longingly, Devon stared at the glass of water now grasped in her hands. With hesitation, Devon raised the glass and sniffed the surface. Could it be tainted? It seemed silly after she did it, how was she supposed to know what tainted water would smell like, even if it were? She took a few sips pausing for a moment before gulping down the rest. Her thirst quenched, she began inspecting the drawers one by one, only to find them empty. Devon smiled as she began to form a plan. She would have to wait until after the girl had come and gone with the food if this was going to work. Devon placed her finger against the mirror’s surface pointing at the reflection of the bed’s mattress. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

 

  Devon didn’t need to wait long. Only half an hour of time had passed before Devon could hear footsteps coming down the hallway. She already knew who it was from the sound. The footsteps were quiet and more delicate than Rowland’s or the other large man. There was a light knocking before her voice called through. “It’s Keryn, the girl from before. Can I come in?”
  “Sure, why not?” Devon replied patiently sitting at the foot of the bed. This time, she was prepared for the screeching of the deadbolt as it unlocked.
  Keryn pushed the door open and in her hands carried a covered serving tray of food. Abruptly the door was pulled closed by an unseen person. Devon assumed it was the giant from before. Did that mean he hadn’t left the door from earlier? Was he standing guard?
  It wasn’t just her mannerisms that gave it away. Devon could smell some kind of fear coming from the girl. I really do make her nervous.
  Keryn began explaining herself. “I didn’t know what you like, so I thought I would try something different.” She received no response from Devon. “Since you just woke up I thought some breakfast would be a great start. You’re a vegetarian right? I made you some potato pancakes, you must be starving.”
  The smell of food tore at her, making her stomach ache. Despite the pain she held her ground, unwilling to show any sign of gratitude to the people who were keeping her in confinement.
  Keryn’s expression fell slightly, her smile faded at Devon’s reaction. Making her way across the room, she walked around the side of the bed placing the tray of food between Devon and herself. Keryn climbed up on the bed clutching a pillow, squeezing it for some kind of comfort in the already awkward situation. “Please don’t be angry with Rowland. He really is a good man.”
  Devon had no doubt that the girl believed her own words. “Yeah I’m sure by tomorrow we will be BFF’s.” Devon didn’t even attempt to hide her sarcasm. “So are you going to level with me? What is all of this, a cult? Have I been kidnapped?”
  Keryn began to giggle, caught off guard by her suggestion. “A cult? No, nothing like that that. We’re the good guys. I swear.” The girl held up her hand placing it over her heart. As if this somehow would signify some kind of honor code to Devon. “We just want to make sure you and everyone else are safe.”
  Devon had no interest in another round of this. The conversation was already turning into the same circular pattern as the last time Keryn was in the room. “You mentioned something like that before, and so did Rowland. But what does it mean?”
  Keryn’s gaze slid off Devon as she took a moment to carefully choose her next words. “We just… need to keep an eye on you right now….to make sure everyone is going to be safe. I know it’s a broken record but we are not up to anything sinister I promise.” She smiled brightly trying to reassure Devon. “You’re going to be glad in the long run. At least, I hope you will.”
  Devon had enough; the void of information and cryptic responses was all she could bear. It would be hypocritical for her to vent her frustrations on the girl after scolding Rowland for doing the same.
  She sighed heavily, trying to make one last attempt at reasoning with the girl. “You have to believe me. I didn’t kill Derrick or Jackson, I’m not dangerous.” She insisted. “There was some kind of animal, some kind of beast that was inside his apartment waiting for us. I couldn’t make out what it was in the dark, it was big and it…” Her voice cracked, as her throat closed up. Devon had not been given any time to face the memories of that terrible night. “It ripped Jackson apart. It happened right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it.” Devon stared forward into the empty air reliving the horrific scene in her mind.
  Devon was distracted by a sound, her thoughts returned to the present to find Keryn crying silently across the bed. The girl was holding the pillow tight in her arms.
  “I’m so sorry.” Her words came out as a breath as her lip trembled.
  The genuine sorrow that the girl was feeling for her pain and loss took Devon back. Her protective nature flared. She wanted to comfort Keryn; to protect her from her pain, but she knew better. Creating emotional bonds with the people who kept her confined was a dangerous line not to cross. These people were still her captives, no matter what kind of brainwashing this poor girl had gone through.
  Moving from house to house as a kid, Devon had to shield her feelings carefully. This type of emotional separation and roughness would have to be put into play. “Why are you sorry?” she asked gruffly, “You didn’t do it?” She locked onto Keryn with a penetrating gaze, hoping to make her reveal some kind of information that might actually be useful.
  Putting the pillow back down onto the bed, Keryn wiped her eyes and moved closer to Devon. “We know you didn’t kill anyone, but you still have to stay here until…”
  Devon cut her off. “Until what Keryn?? Until Rowland decides? Is he some kind of Doctor here? Who put him in charge?”
  Keryn’s face became guarded as she sat back away from her.
  Devon knew that there would be nothing more the girl would be able to say. “At least, tell me why it’s not safe for me to be around others? You mentioned it before. Keryn, if I’m some kind of risk, then I ought to know.” Her tone was as close to begging as Devon felt comfortable.
  “I can’t say anything else. I’ve already said too much.” Keryn looked toward the door as if the person behind it was listening to their conversation. “I have to go.” Keryn got off the bed heading over to the door, making a light set of three knocks. “I’ll be back in the morning and maybe I will be able to show you the rest of the house.” The door opened, and Devon’s suspicions were right. The giant red-bearded man had been standing guard in the hallway.
  Devon’s only response was an unimpressed stare at the girl. Was this offer supposed to make the apprehension of sleeping in a locked room go away?
  “Good night.” Keryn slipped away through the door.
  Devon didn’t reply, she was too angry to say anything nice to the poor girl. She waited for the deadbolts to slide into place before climbing over the bed to sit in the same place where Keryn just was. Devon slid the dining tray closer to her, scooping up the pancakes with her hands and shoveling them into her mouth. At this point, her pride was not above her hunger. She needed her strength for what was coming.

 

  Devon waited as least an hour before getting off the bed and moving around the room. She needed to make sure Keryn had left and the echo of both sets of footsteps had faded out into nothingness before executing her plan. She slid the empty tray of food under the bed before drawing back the covers.
  Twisting carefully, Devon removed both the knobs on each side of the mirror. With ease, she was able to pull it free without noise or damage to the dresser. It was made from some kind of odd wood that Devon couldn’t place. It seemed incredibly light as she carried it, placing it face down on the bed. Taking the pillow that Keryn was holding in one hand, she used her other to pull the blankets over it; hiding the mirror. Carefully Devon placed the pillow overtop of the covered mirror before climbing up to place her right knee on top. Devon whispered, “Well, my luck can’t get much worse than this.” As she released her weight in a slow and controlled motion, the muffled sound of splintering glass was just what Devon wanted to hear.
  Ever since one of her placements with an unstable foster mother, confinement had given Devon a feeling of fight or flight. And most often in Devon’s early life, that meant fight. Her foster mother Edna was a religious fanatic and a drunk, just one in a series of homes that Devon learned hard lessons from. Edna made a routine of locking Devon in the basements root cellar claiming that she was doing the work of Jesus; that someday she would save Devon’s soul. Instead of saving her soul she almost killed Devon with malnutrition and hypothermia.
  Devon had made a promise to herself as she lay freezing on the cellar floor. A promise to never let someone have control over her life, no matter what the cost. After that home Devon fled to the streets, learning a new skill set that she hadn’t needed to call upon for a long time.
  Peeling the blankets slowly back, she lifted the wood frame that held the mirror. Devon took a visual inventory of the glass that lay exposed upon the bedsheet before placing the wood frame onto the floor. It took Devon a moment to pick out a long shard of mirror. Using it as a knife, she began to cut strips from the white dress she had woken up in, with minimal noise. Every few moments she would pause, listening for anyone coming down the hallway before continuing. Carefully she wrapped the wider end of the shard with the material followed by the drawstring of her black track pants. Pulled tight, they created a handle on the makeshift shank.
  Once she was satisfied with the stillness of the large house. Devon exposed the corner of the mattress, covering up the leftover mirror with the sheets. Quickly and quietly she began cutting into the bed with her makeshift tool. Fistfuls of musty yellow stuffing were finally peeled up and tossed to the floor as she worked faster. Bracing the mattress with her one hand, Devon reached her other into the open cavity grasping one of the exposed wire coils. She pulled with all her might: it didn’t take much force as the ping of the metal breaking caused her to stop. Just a few quick turns and maneuvering and the coil was out. Usually, it takes a lot more to break the wire from a mattress, guess she didn’t know her own strength. Her plan was moving faster than Devon had hoped. Taking her prize, Devon stood to examine each window before deciding on the one with the largest padlock. She set the shank down on the ledge before grasping the lock to take a better look. This one for sure. Pulling at the wire coil to straighten it out, she folded it in half and bent one side. She slid it into the keyhole of the padlock, the straight end into the top and the bent end below it. She jostled the metal, giving the keyhole a few slight turns. It took several tries but finally she heard the give of the lock as it sprung open.
  “Yes! Like riding a bike.” She said in a hushed excitement. “Only one more to go.”

 

  After a few minutes, both locks were off and tossed onto the bed. She slid her fingers into the brass handle at the bottom the window and her other hand to the top ledge. As carefully as she could, she pushed the window up. It was no use, the wood was old and creaked against its frame as it lifted. Devon froze, her eyes wide with panic as she strained to hear if anyone else had noticed the sound. Thankfully there was just enough room for her to squeeze her way out. Listening again she found no footsteps or noise from the hallway. Her heart began to race from the adrenaline entering her system. Now more than ever, Devon knew she had to keep her focus. The answers she needed weren’t going to come from these people. She placed the makeshift shank out onto the ledge just to the side of the window. There was enough space for her to crawl out with ease. First through were her arms as she stretched far enough to grasp the window’s outer ledge and use it as leverage while she began to pull the rest of her body free. Once out, Devon lifted herself up to kneel on the ledge; little clouds of vapor trailed out from her mouth as she breathed in the crisp winter air. Despite being able to see her breath, the pumping adrenaline must have been keeping her warm. Whether it was the fact of her release from confinement, or simply a sudden gratitude at still being alive, Devon was thrilled at making contact with the outside world. The trees themselves seemed to speak to her senses, urging her on with fragrant whispers. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to run; run free for miles beneath the night sky.
  The spacious grounds were surrounded by a half ring of pine trees leading into a thick, dense forest. Their branches swayed delicately in the wind, under the moonlight. Devon looked over the ledge to check that the lower area was clear and to make a quick assessment for the next part of her escape. The third story and the floor below had the same stone ledge with matching framed windows. This would be an easy drop for her to handle. From there, she hoped she would be able to lower herself down to the ground and flee into the shelter of the forest. With no sign of light or movement in the lower windows: it was now or never.
  There was no way to make the drop and hold the piece of broken mirror while climbing. Devon tossed it down onto the frosted grass below, relieved to see it bounce slightly without breaking. Devon had no intention of harming anyone with it, yet the idea of being defenseless if she needed to was not an option either. Turning around, she lowered her right leg over the ledge, followed by the rest of her body. What a difference from the night at Derrek’s! Her arm was not just healed, but she felt stronger than normal. Devon assumed it was from the adrenaline and thrill of the escape, whatever it was; she was thankful for it. There was no desire to have a repeat of her night trying to escape the creature. As she expected, even with her toes pointed down and arms extended there was still, at least, another foot drop to the lower ledge. Devon swung her body slightly towards the window as she let go.
  Her stomach tensed, matching the plunge while her feet landed. Momentarily she lost her balance, and it took a few seconds before she could regain herself. Devon laughed nervously with relief.
  She used the window frame to steady herself, lowering her body into a crouch. Against the window was Devon’s own reflection staring back. The sky behind her was a world of its own, and she appeared to be a ghostly visitor. The brightness of the moon entranced her, surrounding Devon with its energy. A patch of clouds drifted across the sky, darkening the image in the glass in front of her. In a sudden panic, Devon realized there was a face beyond her own dimmed reflection. A man she did not recognize was standing in the dark room staring directly at her. As she recoiled in shock, Devon fell backward from the ledge.
  In a natural motion, her body twisted in midair as Devon landed hard against her side. The lower half of her body was on the stone pathway and her upper lay just upon the grass. As she looked forward, she panicked, the glinted end of the shard was poised centimeters from her eye. There was no time to lay there and pain was a luxury she couldn’t afford. In these precious seconds, nothing mattered except the need to flee, before whoever was in the window could raise an alarm. Devon rolled away from the shard, quickly standing up. Crouching down she grabbed the handle before sprinting for the woods.
  The dark must have been playing tricks on her vison. Devon quickly closed the distance across the field faster than she had expected. She glanced back, seeing the stone manor in all of its entirety.
  Blinding flood lights obliterated the space between the house and herself, illuminating Devon and exposing her position. There was no doubt now, someone had noticed she was gone. Instinctively she turned, praying the trees would hide her long enough to get away. Within a few steps she was in their shelter, blocking out the light from behind. Recklessly Devon charged through the woods with no sense of where she was or what direction she was going; her desire to escape pushed her forward.
  After running deeper into the forest Devon discovered that instead of becoming tired she felt invigorated. Her legs felt powerful as she dodged obstacles as swiftly as they appeared. Despite the danger of her situation, there was freedom and intimacy within the forest around her.
  Even without aid of shoes, Devon could not feel the pain of nature’s floor against the pads of her feet. Dazzled by the vividness of every branch and mossy stone, she couldn’t tell if it was real or a hallucination. Maybe the water had been tainted. Devon’s breath pumped thick clouds of steam into the winter air; the smell of earth and pine was overwhelming as her lungs pulled the forest in. Everything felt so natural as the trees whipped past her in a blur. By right, she should be stumbling through the darkness like a teenager in a B-rated horror flick. Instead Devon could make out the shapes and details of the nocturnal life surrounding her as she charged through the forest with the grace of a doe.
  There was a break in her connection with nature as she crashed through a tall group of trees, emerging onto a stone bluff. Devon’s feet slid on the smooth rock, a few feet in front of her lay a narrow river, raging wildly. The ground separating her and the river ended with a steep ledge of rocky earth. Every reason the caused Devon’s flight into the forest came back to her. Fear and panic started to rise as Devon could see no way around it or bridge to get across. She knew attempting to jump to the other side would carry a risk of being swept away. There must be somewhere else? Devon would have to go along it and hope for an easier place to cross.
  Her heart leapt from the loud snap of a branch breaking in the bushes behind her. Devon spun around, gripping her makeshift weapon in her hand. Beyond the intense sound of the raging river she could hear the low menacing growl reverberating through her body. No one could forget that feeling, the same feeling Devon had when she heard the beast in Derrick’s apartment. Her heart began to pound, both hands trembling as fear overtook her. With careful movements, Devon walked her feet slowly back to the bluff’s edge, stopping only when she felt the soil give way under her heel. She could go no further.
  The bushes began to rustle. Something large was coming through them. The growl came again, louder. This time its impact punched at her senses, and Devon swayed backward as if it were something physical attacking her. The breeze swirled around her with the thick scent of musk. It cant be? There was no mistake, it was the same scent from the beast that had killed Derrick and Jackson. Not just another of its kind, but the same one, here in the woods with Devon.
  Rage erupted inside her. How dare this thing corner her, hunt her so persistently? Had it not taken enough from her already? Devon gripped the shard tightly. “I’m not going to die here!” she screamed, lunging toward the bushes.
  Giant claws extended as the beast emerged, rising from the underbrush to meet her attack.
  In a blur of movement, she threw the knife with all her force at the creature’s face. Lifting her one leg while twisting her body, she placed it against the creature’s stomach, kicking off. Devon used the momentum and opposing force, to launch herself head long toward the river. The wounded beast was sent crashing back into the bushes. She knew it would only be second before it could regain itself. With every ounce of power in her legs, Devon pushed out, trying to throw her body across the river. The wet earth crumbled under her feet, not giving her the leverage she needed. In seconds, her ribcage crashed against the rocky ledge. Devon arms scrambled at the dirt trying to find something to hold onto. Her body began to edge backward, her hands clawed in desperation but it was no use. The river’s thunderous speed pulled her legs in as she was enveloped by the freezing waters. Devon gasped, her mouth and lungs shocked as they filled with icy water.
  Her life was now at the mercy of the violent current. Everything around her was darkness, there was no way to find the river’s surface. A burst of terrible pain exploded inside her temple as she collided with something in the abyss. The blackness permeated her mind as everything around her went silent.