Devon charged through into the night, followed closely by a few hundred men. With each stride of her horse, her armor echoed as they raced towards the onset of battle. White knuckles firmly grasped the hilt of her sword as she raised it high above her head, the other clenched the leather reins. Ahead, a sea of soldiers were poised ready for war. All around the air was filled with the scent of lather from the horses, and the fresh earth churning beneath their hooves.
Several feet from her enemies Devon wielded her sword, rounding it forward in an arc as she let out a cry of battle. A brave soul broke the line rushing forward toward her. Devon’s blade cleaved hard into the neck of the rider, sending a mist of hot blood that filled her senses and bathed her exposed face. The force of the blow threw the rider from his saddle, his death released a wave oncoming enemies. Behind her, the cries of her men filled her with exhilaration.
Thousands of soldiers clashed together in a massive sea of butchery. In the bloody haze, the firelight from the enemy’s torches glinted across the gold tones of Devon’s armor.
Grasping fistfuls of the horse’s mane, she climbed up to stand on its back before lunging herself onto the next passing rider. Both warriors fell to the ground as she collided into him. Devon used her strength to pin her opponent as they landed, punching the front of his helmet as it crumpled beneath her fist. With her fingers, she reached under the front lip, tearing his helm away as though merely breaking open the shell of a crab. The rider roared, spit frothing from his mouth as he screamed at her. Details of his words were drowned out in the confusion of clattering armor and the screams of soldiers being slaughtered in every direction. Terror filled the man’s eyes as he finally saw the gaze of Devon looking down at him. Blood poured through shattered teeth he struggled to choke out a plea for his life.
Devon’s eyes held neither pity nor remorse while she pulled his head sideways. Instead, her body leaned forward as she sank her teeth into the pale flesh of his neck. Muscle and tendons pulled apart between Devon’s industrious jaws, unwilling to give until she felt his spine snap under their force. His body tensed once before finally falling limp, Devon released them, dropping his corpse to the ground.
The sound was satisfying to her, as the cries of battle swarmed around her. Devon’s eyes danced around, hunting for a new target.
“Devon…” a voice instantly drew her attention; the noise of war grew distant as if it were part of another world beyond her.
Around her the battlefield faded away, leaving only the scent of blood hanging in the air. Below Devon, the body of the man she had just killed was replaced by Derrick. Lifeless as last she saw him, he laid along the crimson floor of the condo as his wound gushed forth, filling a growing pool around them. Both her hands once again vainly tried to stop the bleeding, looking around for someone to help.
In the kitchen, she could make out the small dark haired boy from her dream. Devon couldn’t help but smile, as she gazed on his familiar nature. These surroundings were all wrong, why was he here and not the clearing in a forest? The boy sat on the edge of the kitchen’s island, kicking his feet back and forth while staring back at Devon. His expression was playful as he hummed a comforting tune under his breath, something old and familiar to her. His humming turned into song as he opened his mouth.
Love’s young dream, alas, is over.
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night
His voice was soft and airy, calming her. He held her gaze and the flecks of gold in his eyes began to brighten as he sang. Devon struggled to hear him over the new sounds around her as they grew louder. The sounds of…
Little birds chirping above her in the open air and the uncontrollable rush of water coming from further behind her. Tiny bumps lifted her skin, lining it with gooseflesh as a cold breeze brushed across her wet body. Devon felt numb, incapable of even opening her eyelids that now shielded her from the rays of sun pressing against them.
Close by the sound of footsteps and grinding rocks skidded a few feet in front of her. Devon kept still; had she been found by the people she just escaped from?
“Come on. Don’t be a chicken, you poke her.” From a few feet in front of Devon, a young boy’s voice called out as he taunted someone on.
“Eww, no! You’re sick, I’m going to tell mom!” came the answering voice of a little girl.
“Chicken. Fine. I’m gonna poke her.”
“Don’t, you’ll hurt her!” The girl wailed in distress, as the sound of gumboots stomped through the mud, just in front of where Devon lay. The boy’s shadow draped across her face, cooling the warmth of the sun’s red glow. Above her, she could hear his labored breathing. Devon could tell the boy was anxious, filled with excitement and fear as he braved to do what the little girl refused. Maybe if she lay still enough, they would leave her alone and move on.
A dull pressure against her ribcage proved her wrong as the boy gently prodded at her with a branch. Focusing her effort, she continued to lay as still as she could. Failing to receive any response, the delicate poking quickly escalated to a strong, sharp jab into Devon’s stomach. This pressure was more than she expected, an involuntary flinch tightened her stomach ejecting a fountain of river water from her mouth. Devon coughed violently as she lifted her body, looking groggily around in between gasps for air. There was no sign of anyone else except the two small kids that had found her.
Both children screamed simultaneously in panic, the boy was sent toppling backward into the riverbank, floundering in the muddy shallows. The little girl raced away in terror down an old dirt path.
In a daze Devon reached for the boy, grasping his mud-slicked boot. She hoped to question him of their whereabouts before letting him go. Both of his eyes were stricken with panic, screaming and kicking at Devon’s hand. In his fight, the boy was able to wriggle free, leaving only the boot in her grasp. Scrambling from the water, he fled down the path after his sister, his run only slightly lopsided from the loss of his boot.
Finally regaining a normal breath in her lungs, Devon let out a soft groan as she crawled to the water’s edge. Her memory of the previous night was hazy. She could remember waking up in the house and fleeing through a forest. But how had she wound up here, being poked by a young boy? And just where was here?
What remained of the black tracksuit she wore was shredded; limbs were completely torn off and what remained was caked with mud and leaves. Desperately she tried to summon a memory of how she had gotten to this place while brushing the worst of the dirt away. A sharp pain pierced the side of her head, dislodging the memory of the black current pulling her under. It was impossible. She knew then that she shouldn’t be here. Grateful to be alive and in one piece, Devon knew she couldn’t stay. It was a safe bet that the people she fled from would be looking for her, alive or dead.
As she stood up, Devon used her arm to shield her eyes from the morning light to get a better look. Mud seemed to be the primary feature of this part of the stream, covering both banks and squishing up between her bare toes. Upstream in the distance, the ground became rockier, with lush green moss typical of the west coast. Devon knew going back was not an option, as the people she was escaping from were somewhere in that direction. Downstream the mud seemed to get worse, and just the thought of fighting through it as it pulled at her legs exhausted her more. That just left the direction the children had fled, down the path. After eliminating the other options, Devon decided there was nowhere else to go. Somehow she had to find a way to call the police, or her father, so she just hoped that the kids would lead her to a phone.
At the end of the trail, she emerged onto a grassy slope. In the distance was a large farm yard surrounded by a faded wooden fence. At the center of the field stood an old farmhouse, its chimney billowing smoke in the cool air. Devon’s eyes could see the pink jacket of the little girl just breaching the front steps, in the distance the little boy followed after her across the field. It certainly was picturesque and inviting, although Devon knew she still had to be cautious.
With little to no options, she followed after them along a path of trampled grass. Several boards had been pulled sideways from the fence, forming a large enough gap for Devon to slip through. By this point, the frightened children had long since disappeared into the house. She figured, at any rate that the children’s parents would, at least, have a phone she could use to call the police or her father.
Only a few minutes across the field and Devon reached the gravel drive leading up to the front porch.
A strong woman with a wild mane of bright red hair burst through the door, quickly making her way down the front steps to meet Devon’s approach. Both children cowered behind her through the safety of the screen door. The little girl still lightly sobbing with her tear stained face. To Devon’s shock, the woman lifted a shotgun chest level, pointing it directly at her.
With what happened at the creek, Devon expected that the children would have alerted someone that she was coming. The shotgun was definitely not the welcome she was anticipating. Derrick’s, the strange house, and now this red-haired Annie Oakley. All Devon wanted to do was go home, to tell her father she was safe and alive.
“Whoa, put down the gun!” She raised her hands holding up the boy’s boot. “I just need to use your phone,” Devon waved the boy’s boot in her right hand as if some kind flag of surrender.
With her head cocked, the woman frowned almost thoughtfully. Still, she made no move to lower her weapon.
“Sorry, but you don’t get to tell the girl with the gun what to do,” she said. “My kids come in here crying and shouting something about a dead body coming to life, and then you show up looking like something the cat dragged in.”
All she could do was nod in agreement, Devon couldn’t help but faintly snort with laughter after she looked at herself. “Yeah, that’s just the thing,” she said. “I was the dead body. Now can you please put that gun down?”
Still reluctant to lower her weapon, the woman’s eyebrow raised and her lip pulled to the side. It was apparent that she was not sure what to make of Devon’s claim. “You’re the dead body?” she asked skeptically.
Devon smiled, without lowering her hand, she turned the wrist pointing to herself. “In the flesh.”
“What kind of trouble are you in? And why do you need my phone?” The woman slightly lowered the gun waiting for Devon to respond.
“I just need to call my father and let him know I’m ok. I swear I’m not here to bring any trouble.”
A simple nod was all she received while the woman remained in her stance.
“Look, your kids found me in the river,” Devon explained. “Your son was good enough to poke me with a stick to see if I was okay. He left this behind.” Devon stepped forward reaching out to hand the lady her son’s boot.
Finally, the woman lowered the gun completely, taking the offered footwear. Her face turned a shade matching her fiery hair, biting her lip trying not to smile. Keeping her eyes on Devon she stifled her smile, and her face became serious as she called over her shoulder. “Travis John Warren, you get out here right now! And tell your sister to get this poor girl a blanket!”
Without hesitation, the boy pushed the screen door open and bounded down the steps. Devon was able to get a glimpse of the girl before she ran off to fulfill her errand. The child’s hair, the same vibrant red as her mother’s.
He stood by his mother’s side, eyes downcast at the tone of her disapproval.
The woman turned, glowering at him with a serious face. One hand propped on her hip grasping the boot while the gun now rested along her side. “Travis?” she waited for the boy to confess his story.
He twisted his foot into the ground while continuing to stare down, one dirty sock desperately trying to hide behind the boot. Finally, he answered in a voice so low and quiet it barely registered. “Yes, ma?”
“Is this girl telling me the truth?” his mother asked, even though the answer was obvious.
“But, Ma!” he protested, looking suddenly up into her face, now ready to defend his actions.
“Don’t you ‘but, Ma’ me. Were you poking this poor girl with a stick?”
Defeated, he hung his head again, mumbling, “Yes, Ma.” Without forewarning, Travis looked towards Devon with cringing embarrassment and softly apologized.
“Apology accepted, little man.”
Satisfied with the exchange, the woman switched the safety on, lowering the gun’s aim to the ground. Gracefully she held the shotgun forward to her son. “Tell me what you’re going to do this.”
Flushed with pride at being given such responsibly the boy gleamed. “I will go directly to the gun cabinet and lock it up.”
“That’s my boy” The woman placed the shotgun and boot into in the boy’s eager hands. Ruffling his hair, she turned him around by his head and gave him a nudge towards the house.
It shocked Devon to see such a casual exchange of a weapon between a parent and child.
Almost knocked over by her brother charging past, the little girl returned with the blanket. “I’m Sophia!” The little girl smiled eagerly while she held it up, trying not to lose sight of Devon over the mass of the material.
Sophia’s mother reached down and took the blanket from her, shaking it loose.
Quick as he was in the house, Travis was back out grabbing Sophia by the hand. “Come on,” pulling the little girl reluctantly away as he marched toward the house.
Devon couldn’t help but stare at her blankly before blurting out; “You just gave that boy a shotgun!”
The woman simply smiled, draping the blanket gently around her shoulders. “Where are my manners? It seems I’m no better than my son today.” As she wiped her hands on her jeans before offering one to Devon. “I’m Jenn, you’ve met my kids Travis and Sophia.” This sudden shift from nurturer, to the woman who seemed ready to extinguish her existence only 5 minutes ago was very perplexing. Still not sure if she could trust Jenn, it was also pretty clear that this was her best chance of getting some sort of message to the police or her father.
Jenn gave Devon an earnest look. “As for the gun, you needn’t worry yourself. There weren’t any bullets in it to start with.” Jenn let out a tiny bark of a laugh. “Besides, you should be more concerned with yourself. You’re lucky you aren’t dead of hypothermia.”
She was right, how was Devon not freezing? It was still winter and somehow she survived a night in the river. Wisps of breath were frosting in the air while she spoke and there was a realization that she didn’t need the blanket at all. Devon had been so distracted by the shotgun that she hadn’t time to consider how cold she should have been. It must be some side effect of the adrenaline from escaping last night, she thought.
“So how about it, Stranger? What’s your name? Jenn asked.
Devon’s jaw gaped open, caught off guard. The sudden need for an alias made Devon grasp onto the first face that came into her mind. “Uh…Keryn. My name is Keryn.” Having just escaped an abduction of sorts, Devon would have to protect her identity. Jenn could know the people up the river, that kept her in that house. Just because she had put the shotgun away, it didn’t mean Devon was ready to trust her completely.
This uncertain introduction earned Devon a funny look, but Jenn shrugged it off, accepting the name at face value. Jenn placed her arm around Devon’s back, guiding her slowly to the front door. She carried on with her questions, “Not meaning to pry, but what’s your story, Keryn? It must be something to end up face down in the river this morning and live to tell the tale?”
As nonchalant as possible, Devon laughed. “Oh, that. I was partying with friends up the river, and…” it didn’t even make sense to Devon, it just wasn’t possible.
“And” Jenn prompted Devon.
She looked at Jenn with concern. “I think I’m still in a bit of shock, I don’t really remember how I got to this morning.”
“Oh… one of those nights. I remember that age all too well. I never did get hangovers,” she remarked, recalling some kind of memory while holding the door open for Devon. “How sweet it was.”
Out of habit, Devon stopped to remove her shoes, only to remember her feet were bare and filthy. “Do you have a rag or something, that I can wipe my feet off with?”
Jenn laughed. “Honey, this is a farm house. Mud and muck are no strangers to these floors.” With a flick or her wrist and a nudge to Devon’s back; Jenn pointed down the hall while ushering Devon through the door. “There is a bathroom on the right. A hot shower is just what you need, maybe it will jog that memory of yours. While you’re at it, I’ll go find you something you can throw on.” Jenn looked her up and down, in an attempt at estimating her size. “It will work, might be bit big on you, but then again, beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Thank you.” Devon sighed. “Are you sure?”
“Did I stutter?” Jenn rolled her eyes. “You were good at Thank you.” She left, mumbling and shaking her head in amusement while she made her way up the stairs. “City kids, always so skeptical.”
Stepping lightly, Devon tried to leave as little mud as possible as she tiptoed to the end of the hall.
Once she was alone behind the closed door, Devon quickly climbed into the claw foot bathtub, drawing the curtain and turning on the shower. Gently peeling off the remnants of the track suit, she piled them at the back side of the tub. Rising steam and the water beading down comforted her as she relaxed into its heat. Devon ran her hands over her skin while marveling at how unharmed her body was. Those mysteries would have to wait; Devon was facing a house full of strangers and needed to gather her composure. There was still so much distance to cover before she would be safe at home. Also, she needed to come up with a plausible story of how she ended up here.
Jenn was right, a thorough shampoo and several twigs later and Devon was feeling almost human again. So much tension had been washed away with the mud and muck as she stepped out of the tub. It was amazing how much she had taken simple comforts for granted.
As Devon piled the pieces of her old track suit into the sink, there was a knock on the door.
“How’s it going in there, city girl? Ready for some clothes?”
Devon opened the door wide enough for her hostess to pass through a handful of items, releasing a puff of steam into the hallway. “Thank you.”
Jenn paused as Devon smiled biting her lip. “Now you’re getting the hang of it. You can find us in the kitchen when your ready.” With the assurance that Devon was free to take her time, Jenn gently closed the door, leaving her to dress.
A huge reminder of the night before was the gold bracelet still hanging delicately from her wrist as she wiped the condensation from the mirror. Studying it closer, Devon was not sure if it was gold due to its light weight. Its design was beautiful, and a shame that the police would have to cut it off of her as evidence. There was a slight attachment to it only added to the creep factor of the strange house and the people who put it on her. Devon tried to remove it in the shower, yet no matter how hard she pulled there was no way to slide it off. Standing back in full view of the mirror, the glimmer of the bracelet looked peculiar against the button up plaid flannel shirt and denim coveralls she’d been given to wear. Now dressed and feeling clean, she felt ready to leave the privacy of the bathroom.
Devon breached the door stepping into the hallway where she was immediately greeted by Sophia grinning up at her in marvel. Face to face with her for the first time, Devon noticed that the girl was a spitting image of her mother. Her tangled red curls framed her face like a burning halo, her pale blue eyes the mirror image of those Devon had seen staring down the barrel of the shotgun. One of the biggest difference between her brazen mother and Sophia was the girl’s innocent nature.
Sophia continued with unabashed glee, cocking her head to the side as she examined Devon. “I’m glad you’re not dead,” she gushed before she whisked herself down the hallway and into the kitchen.
How could she not be moved by the child’s infectious nature? It was hard to hold back tears as her eyes welled. The empty space she could feel in her abdomen ached when she breathed deeply, desperately trying to steady her composure. Devon put on her best smile and readied herself as she followed Sophia into the kitchen.
An astonishing aroma filled the kitchen with a mix of coffee and fresh baked bread. “Are you a coffee drinker?” Jenn asked, sipping from a chipped mug bearing the slogan: WORLD’S #1 MOM. “Help yourself, there’s a pot on the stove, and you look like you could use some. It wouldn’t hurt to have a bite to eat. That is if your stomach’s up to it.” She gestured impatiently for Devon to take advantage of the hospitality. “Go on, make yourself at home, mugs are in the cupboard above the sink.” Travis paid little attention to Devon while munching away on his cereal and toast. Sophia held her spoon frozen in mid-bite, unable to keep her eyes off Devon while she crossed the room, to pour a cup of coffee. Taking the only chair left at the table across from Jenn, Devon joined them, indulging in a few pieces of bread.
Jenn eyed her over before mustering her giggle.
“What?” Devon looked around the room.
“You just look like a real country girl now.” Jenn’s laugh burst out, unable to be contained.
Devon couldn’t hold a straight face either and joined the light-hearted laughter, followed by Sophia. It felt good to laugh, and she felt herself trusting that these folks were exactly as they seemed: genuine, helpful people.
Travis shook his head “Girls are weird.”
“So city girl, you going to tell me how you ended up face down in a river bed?”
This time, Devon was prepared. She took just enough time in the bathroom to concoct a semi-believable alibi. “Yes… I’m just not sure if it’s kid appropriate?”
“Go ahead, I don’t shelter my kids. Besides, they will be your age someday.”
“Good point. I was partying up the river with a bunch of friends and I guess I had a bit too much to drink. I must have wandered off and gotten lost, or thought it would be fun to take a swim?” Devon shrugged. “I am a klutz, so there is a good chance that I slipped and fell in. Honestly, I don’t remember much.”
It wasn’t the best lie. Devon certainly was not the type of person to go to wild bush parties anymore. Lucky for her this woman didn’t know her, and the story was well prepared; just enough detail but not too much to make someone suspect otherwise. Devon held her eyes steady, hoping Jenn would buy it and not ask too many questions.
Jenn lifted her eyebrows, breathing in sharply as though bracing herself against the urge to deliver a lecture.
God, she must think I’m the world’s biggest idiot, Devon thought.
“Well… I’m not your mom. You’re just lucky to be alive,” was Jenn’s diplomatic response.
“Earlier, I mentioned that I needed to use a phone?” Devon asked. “I lost my cell in the river and I really need to call my father.”
“That’s right. Well, we have one, but unfortunately, the phone lines are down.” Jenn gave a lopsided smile. “Welcome to a winter in the country.”
Damnit! How am I supposed to get help? “Oh,” Devon said, disappointment apparent on her face.
“If it helps I could give you a lift home or somewhere that has a phone. Possibly a friend’s? Jenn offered, her face brightening. “Plus you’re in luck. It’s Saturday and the kid’s and I were going into town after breakfast for some shopping adventures.”
“Are you going downtown?” Devon asked, so relieved at the news she blurted out “I live right on Broad Street, by Johnston.”
“Well, that’s a spooky coincidence.”
Devon looked at Jenn, unsure of her meaning and realizing she may have just given away too much information.
“It’s like you were meant to show up on my doorstep. That’s exactly where we’re are going.” She gestured to her son, sitting across the table picking at his toast. “The kids are far too eager to spend their Christmas money. Travis here got a gift certificate for a vintage toy store down there.”
“Mom, it’s called Cherry Bomb Toys.” Devon could tell this name was of great importance to Travis, like he was going on a holy pilgrimage.
“Sorry, he got a gift certificate for Cherry Bomb Toys. Is that better?” Travis nodded his head with great admiration.
“I know the store, it’s only half a block away from my place,” Devon hoped that things were finally going her way. She smiled at Travis. “You’re a pretty lucky guy, getting your Christmas money early.”
Travis looked at Devon, confused; the same way earlier when he said Girls are Weird. Travis looked toward his mother unsure of what to say,
“Early?” Jenn piped in. “Are you feeling ok hon? You didn’t hit your head in that river? Christmas was last week.”
Devon’s face went pale as she stared blankly at Jenn, hoping that this was some kind of joke they were playing on her. Her mind was reeling. How long had those people had her? Desperately she tried to keep control of her emotions, so she wouldn’t give anything away that could betray her cover story.
“I’d assumed when you said partying, you meant last night? For Year’s Eve.” Jenn asked, her forehead lightly creasing.
You should really drink some water. You’ve been asleep for a while, Keryn’s voice echoed in Devon’s thoughts. Eleven Days… How could this even be? Devon was stunned. If this was true, those people had her for that whole time.
Devon could sense the moment’s awkwardness as if her own fear were felt by all. Everyone’s eyes were fixated on her with concern. She did her best to laugh it off, Devon didn’t want to draw any more unnecessary attention to this situation.
“Yeah, of course. My family always did things a bit differently on the holidays, that’s all. We tended to celebrate in January.” What else could she do besides sip on her coffee and act normal, as she willed her hand not to shake.
After the small breakfast that Devon barely managed to finish, the kids, Jenn and Devon climbed into an old 1957 red Chevy truck and headed into town. Both of the children were full of energy and chatted excitedly about the treasures they hoped to find. Along the main road, Devon finally realized that she was all the way out in Sooke, a small town about an hours drive from the city. She hadn’t asked Jenn where they were in order to maintain the story she created. Making a mental note of the road’s name, which would be essential in helping the police in finding her kidnappers, she settled in to watch the scenery pass.
In a blur, the trees and houses passed by the window. Devon spent most of the drive quietly trying to remember anything about the time she had lost. Beside captivity, the little boy in her dreams was the only constant thing she could recall, and she hummed the same song he had sung to comfort her. Sophia and Travis amused themselves with games of I spy. The simplicity of childhood was a miracle in itself, one which she found herself envious. Both Sophia and Travis were completely unaware of how harsh the world can be.
I spy with my little eye…. something… that is not… right, she played along inside her head. Catching Jenn’s glance in the rear view mirror, she smiled. “They really are lucky to have such a great mother,” she said, a little wistfully.
Jenn beamed back, both proud and a little embarrassed by the praise. “I try my best,” she answered humbly, as she looked back at the road. After that, Jenn was gracious enough to leave Devon to her private thoughts. They passed the rest of the trip in relative silence, the only sounds were the playful laughter of the children, and the CBC radio piping out soft classics at a low volume.
When they finally reached their destination, a light mist of rain started to fall. It was a relief to step down onto the cobblestone sidewalk, now less than a block from her apartment. The smell of the rain-darkened pavement made Devon feel a twinge of homesickness. So much had happened, she was feeling overwhelmed and close to tears. For the first time, she felt as if she had been gone too long.
Devon turned her back from Jenn, taking a moment to calm her eyes while Jenn helped Sophia out of her seat.
Oblivious to anything but the prospect of new toys, Travis tore past them and into the shop.
“Boys. What can you expect?” Jenn held Sophia in her arms, shaking her head while smiling at Devon across the hood of the truck. “By the time I get in there, he’ll have probably spent it all on Cube Dudes.”
A mustered smile was the best Devon could produce. The matters of children were far from her mind with home being so close; her refuge where she could finally gather her thoughts and figure out what was going on. Gratefully looking down at the oversized work boots and clothing she’d been given she asked, “Do you want me to bring your clothes back to you?” She felt it was doubtful, but it was polite to ask. After all, Jenn’s kindness had gone above and beyond what most people would have done for a complete stranger.
“No, honey. You can just donate them to a shelter if you like, or toss them out.” Jenn gave Devon a long look of maternal concern. “You sure you’re going to be okay? How are you going to get into your place?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time the manager has had to let me into the building.” Devon tried her best to sound casual, not wanting to worry the woman further. “I’ll be okay,” pushing her hands into the pockets. She was just as much trying to reassure herself as she was Jenn. Walking backward away from the two of them, Devon said her goodbyes, reminding Sophia to be good to her mother, before crossing the street.
Devon lived in a bachelor apartment above a stretch of stores, a common arrangement in downtown Victoria. On the corner of the street, she passed the comic book store. Devon was instantly stopped dead in her tracks by her own reflection. An eruption of laughter overcame her as she took herself in. You really do look like a girl from the country. Everything was out of character: the baggy coveralls, the plaid long sleeve shirt, the oversized boots… If it were the 90’s, it could easily pass for grunge wear.
As she turned suddenly, a nearby pedestrian roughly impacted Devon’s shoulder as he moved to get past her. There was no apology, he just cursed at her as he continued on his way. Instinctively her fist clenched while the laughter died on her lips. “Watch it!” she shouted. The man turned his head to give her one final glare, and Devon recognized him as the old man who lived down the hall from her. God, that guy is always such a dick.
She took after him, keeping pace as he entered the building and just managing to catch the door unnoticed before it closed. Nearing the bottom stairs, she waved to another tenant she occasionally spoke to. Instead of the usual smile and idle chit chat, the woman gestured with a blank look and carried on while she opened her mailbox. Maybe it was the clothing, she knew she wasn’t in the most presentable state. It was not enough to bother with, or worth the time to ask. The most important thing was to find the building manager and hope that he was available to let Devon into her apartment.
By the top of the stairs, Devon could hear the chatter of a police radio, coming closer towards her. For them to be here for any other purpose than her disappearance would be too much of a coincidence. This whole experience had been so overwhelming; from Derrick’s death to waking up in the strange house and her daring escape, she was overwhelmed with joy at being safe and alive. Devon’s lip trembled while a smile broke across her face. She put herself in their direct path as she prepared to tell the police news of her return. Both officers glanced her over as they trudged by in the cramped hallway. One of the officers nodded politely with a murmured, “Ma’am.” Yet neither seemed to recognize her. Wouldn’t they have distributed photos of her for a missing person’s case?
Before she had a chance to speak up, the other officer stopped just past Devon, pulling his microphone off her shoulder. “Dispatch, this is Officer Fonseca.”
“Go ahead, Fonseca.”
“We are just finishing up with the Andrews apartment. Everything is unlocked and ready for her father to come clear out her things. We are heading back to the station.”
Watching the police from the stairs, she tried to understand why her father would be coming to collect her things. She hadn’t even been gone two weeks. Would the police abandon a missing person that soon? Even if they would, her father certainly wouldn’t. Paranoia and suspicion began to form, whatever was wrong here could be related to the people at the house back in Sooke. Her joy was hardening into fear. If no one were expecting her to come back home, then they could be the only ones to blame.
“Roger, Fonseca. See you back at the station.”
The second officer shook his head “I don’t know why Gregson needed us to come down here and do this now. This place has been wrapped up for days now. I mean, it’s not like she’s coming back to it.”
Devon was locked in horror, wanting to call out to them at the edge of the stairs. How did they not recognize her face? And what did they mean by not coming back? She was standing right here.
“Wait,” The one officer held up his hand looking back at Devon as though something significant had just occurred to him.
Here we go,she thought. Now he’s figuring it out.
“Should we give the key back to the landlord?”
Devon was dumbfounded by their obliviousness, she watched as the second policeman pushed the other’s hand away as he continued down the stairs.
“You never listen. I left in on the side table at the landlord’s directions. The girl is dead, let’s give her poor father some privacy.”
Dead? She thought it was strange that they didn’t recognize her, but then why would they be looking for a dead girl? None of it made sense. She wasn’t dead, she was standing right here. It did explain what he meant about not coming back. She decided against running after them, feeling certain they were referring to her.
The fatigue of this continuing nightmare had worn on her last nerve. Devon turned away from the stairs, her legs began to shake as though she were finishing the last few steps of a marathon. All over the door frame were strips of bright yellow caution tape barring her apartment door. A lump lodged tightly in her throat as she turned the knob, forcing herself to move. Hesitating only a fraction of a second, Devon pushed on the door sending it slowly open. She crept under the police ribbon only to find that the last fraction of her life had been torn apart.
Every drawer was pulled out and upended, their contents were strewn about the floor in messy piles. The clothes from her closet were piled in a heap amid the sheets of her unmade bed. Devon came undone at the sight. This once private sanctuary from the world had been violated and left in a state to rival the chaos of her mind.
For a long moment, Devon simply stood on the threshold in a state of shock. It was almost as if her mind was trying to remain still, to prevent this sight from becoming a reality. From behind her, the sound of a closing door echoed down the hall, loud enough to pull her from the void.
Devon stepped further in and quietly pulled the door shut behind her. The sleeve of her plaid shirt, pressed hard against her eyes, wiping away tears she hadn’t realized she’d been shedding. She moved like a sleepwalker across the room, automatically dodging the mess with little thought.
As she reached her desk, Devon slumped into the chair. What next? The thought plagued her as she rested her forehead down against her arms. One armed pulled loosely out as it fell down reaching for the power button on her computer tower. Instead, Devon found nothing; the tower had been taken. She looked to see if had been moved, or possibly hidden by debris. Instead, it was just gone. The police must have seized it when they searched her apartment.
At least, the phone was still here and lucky for her, she always paid her bills a month ahead. Devon picked it up, not surprised by the rapid tone indicating that she had voicemail. Punching *98 with her finger against the phone’s keypad, the automated voice replied. You have 16 new messages…
It was still difficult to accept the idea that she’d been gone for 11 days. The first few messages were the standard, a friend checking in regarding her break-up, someone asking Devon to switch shifts at work. All of them had been made before she had gone missing, or before people thought she was dead. Then, a call she had once been anxiously waiting for, a call that should have come the day after the attack:
“Hey Devon, it’s Kristine at the clinic. I know I’m not supposed to tell you this over the phone, but you’re my girl and I’ve got your back. Plus, I get to be the first of your friends to say…congratulations momma! You’re going to be the best mom ever!! Come by the clinic tomorrow and I’ll hook you up with everything you need. Hope everything went well with Derrick last night…if you need anything call me. Anyways, I’m just on my lunch break. Talk to you soon!”
“To delete this message, press 7. To save, pre -”
Devon had already pulled the phone away from her ear, unable to take any more. She told herself in the bathroom at Jenn’s farm that there was no way the child had survived. Even so, it devastated her to hear Kristine’s voice so oblivious to what was really happening. God, even Devon herself was oblivious to most of what had happened until five minutes ago.
A splash of tears began to drop onto the surface of the wood desk. “Not now,” she said aloud, rubbing her eyes angrily against her sleeve. Devon fought against them despite the genuine urge to give into her sadness. If she did, she would be too overcome with reasons to grieve and she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to stop. In that grief, she no longer would she be able to tell who, or what she was crying for. To hell with this.
After rummaging through the mess of her apartment, Devon managed to locate her spare keys and retrieve some money she had stashed away behind a painting on the wall. There was a café around her corner that still had an old pay-as-you-go computer. With some luck, maybe she could find some information online about her supposed death. Calling her father would be pointless, he never owned a cell phone and besides, he was on his way here. Devon quickly changed into her own clothes, pulling her hair back with an elastic she plucked from the change dish. Once the hallway was clear, she was gone.
Inside the coffee shop, Devon was heartened by the familiar smell of roasting coffee and pastries. Her ears could pick out bits of conversation, little bubbles of normalcy all around her. Quickly she made her way up to the counter cutting in front of the four-person lineup. Devon leaned over the counter, catching the baristas attention. “Hey Will, the usual, please.”
The man’s face was unimpressed, to say the least. After a flustered pause, looking at the lineup and back to Devon he asked, “And what would that be…?
“Will, seriously? I’m not having the kind of day to joke around. Double Americano… Like I always get when I come here. Hence, the usual.”Jesus, not even the tiniest thing is going to come easy. Aware that she was being unfair, Devon couldn’t help sounding a bit bitchy after everything she had just gone through.
The barista gave her an odd look and began preparing her order, shaking his head to himself as he busied about at the espresso machine. When he returned, with coffee in hand. “That’ll be….”
“Yeah, two twenty-five. Here you go.” She pushed forward the change already sitting on the counter. The man turned his attention to the line up before Devon could ask if the computer upstairs was free. Instead, she asked one of the other baristas. Hearing that it was, she pulled out a five and tossed it on the counter. “Here, call it a tip.”
Slightly mystified, the girl pocketed the bill, resuming her work as Devon made her way up the stairs.
Staff members at the cafe never charged her for the computer. Why would they? She was probably the only person who used it now that Wi-Fi and smartphones had made internet cafés obsolete. A cursor prompt flashed on the screen as Devon stared blankly at the Google search bar. What should she type, how did I die?
This in itself was an overwhelming thought, so instead she started with her email. All of her messages from the past week were marked as read, except for one, sent from her father this morning. Its subject line bore the words: “Wish you were here.”
She hovered the cursor over the message, hesitating nervously before opening it. The message itself was brief, but what it contained gave her a ghostly chill.
“I don’t know why I’m sending this, I just wish you were here. I wish I could talk to you. I wish you were able to open this email and tell me everything will be okay, the way you always do. You were taken too soon, D, and I will always miss you…
Although she was unable to accept what she was reading, Devon felt a wave of fresh tears coming on. Only minutes ago, back in the halls of her apartment, she had such confidence that her father would never give up on finding her. But here he was, already saying goodbye with these disturbing words… what could possibly have made him believe that she was dead?
She closed the email and opened up a new browser window, deciding on a news search instead. Desperate for some kind of answer, she typed in Derrick’s full name, linking it to the city of Victoria. The first result of the search left her feeling as though she were in an elevator that had suddenly dropped.
“YOUNG VICTORIA COUPLE BRUTALLY SLAIN. — No suspects found in the murder of Derrick Ashton…”
Nauseous and shaky, she opened the link. On the right of the page was Devon’s photo next to Derrick’s, both hovering under the horrific title. She struggled to make sense of the details despite her mind’s instinct to seize up in the grip of panic.
Derrick Ashton was killed… unknown animal attack… security guard Jackson Penn was also found mutilated in the same fashion… the partial remains of Devon Andrews were located on the balcony below… female victim’s body believed to have been skinned alive… flesh at the scene matching the victim’s DNA… fragment of a tattoo confirmed by the victim’s father… body still currently missing…