Devon pushed in the keyboard tray as she leaned back in her seat, hoping that some kind of distance could make this mental horror seem less real to her. Staring at the computer screen, waves of nausea crashed over her, followed by the twisting of her stomach. Devon left the desk fleeing from her seat and down the stairs.
At the bottom of the staircase, her legs nearly gave out as she rounded the corner. In front of her was a young woman just exiting the bathroom; pushing past her with barely enough time to close the door before Devon was throwing up into the sink. The rank, acidic mixture of coffee, bile, and the remnants of her toast, stung her eyes. Her hand clutched onto the side of the cool porcelain as she dry-heaved several times between labored breaths until it finally subsided. A few cranks on the faucet handle rinsed the sparse contents of her stomach away, as she splashed cold water onto her burning face.
Devon spun as several sharp knocks rattled the door. The Barista who’d served her shouted through the thin wood, wanting to know if she was ok.
“I’m all right!” Devon choked out the lie over the sound of the running tap. Still feeling dizzy, she leaned forward placing her forehead against the cool edge; water dripping from her quivering chin. Overwhelmed by what she had just read, tears began to pour forth as she noticed her left hand… the old self-made tattoo Devon had done when she was 12 was gone. It had long since faded into a blurry shape in the webbing of her thumb, but now it was gone completely. No mark, no scar, nothing. Just clean skin.
Fresh fear filled her being. Devon stood, turning her back to the mirror pulling down the corner of her jacket and shirt. The tattoo on the back of her neck, the one mentioned in the news article she’d just read, had also been removed somehow.
This isn’t happening, this cannot be happening. Her mind battled with trying to take everything in. Both of her hands shook as she turned the faucets off, staring into the mirror as she lightly sobbed.
Another wave of rapping came against the door, this time, harder than before. “Miss? Are you ok? If you don’t answer me, I’m going to have to call 911.”
This was the last thing she could take. Devon angrily pulled open the door, startling the barista mid-knock before he could start in on another set.
He stumbled backward as she approached, bumping into the table of a patron spilling his coffee onto the floor. The young man looked into her face, an expression now filled with misery and rage. A trace of fear lit up in his eyes, causing him to raise his arms protectively in her wake.
“Jack, what the hell is wrong with you?” she said, amazed by his defensive stance. “I’m in here being sick, not trashing the place.”
A look of confusion flashed across his brow at the sound of Devon using his name. Stammering his words, “I’m… s.sorry about this, b..b.ut… wait, do I know you or something?”
“Know me?! Jack, I come in here every day! Christ, what’s wrong with you?” Her voice was rising, and she could feel the eyes of the patrons already beginning to stare.
He backed away from Devon, focusing on her face as though trying to place her. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know how you know my name, but I’ve never seen you before…” Jack put out his arms, looking down at her closed fists.
Devon was unaware that her hands were clenched and shaking. His confusion only seemed to make her angrier.
“Okay, you’re going to have to leave,” he said. “You’re upsetting the customers.”
“Jack!” She was furious and past the level of what she could emotionally handle. Devon slammed her fist down, punching the top of the nearest wooden table. The resulting loud crack startled even her, pulling her out of her anger. Looking around, Devon was embarrassed as she assessed the room. The gentleman at the table had jumped away, saving his coffee from her fist, startled and afraid at her outburst. Other customers were now shifting uncomfortably, alarmed by the sound and not sure of what to do. A few were starting to pull out their cell phones, whether to get video of a fight or call the police she wasn’t sure.
“That’s it, Jessica call the cops,” Jack yelled to one of the other baristas behind the counter.
Underneath her fist, the table had split halfway down the center. Devon was shocked at the damage, she quickly pushed past Jack, fleeing the café with her head down. As she ran passed by the outside window, she glimpsed him sliding his hand over the table’s broken surface.
From where he was parked, Briggs had a perfect view of the front door to the apartment building. Gregson had been kind enough to tell him that the girl’s father was scheduled to pick up her things today so that the landlord could re-rent the suite. While Briggs technically wasn’t part of this investigation, he was hoping he would get a chance to talk to the father and find out a bit more about Devon Andrews. Taking a slow sip of his coffee, Briggs listened to the chatter on his scanner as he waited. Compared to that sniper’s nest in Bosnia that Brigg’s had lived in for two weeks, waiting in his Chevrolet sedan was pure luxury. At least here he had hot coffee.
In the past week and a half, this case had gotten under his skin. Truth be told, it had unnerved most of the other members on his team. Johnson had requested a leave of absence to deal with what he had witnessed. Maybe the poor kid didn’t have the skill for the kill, getting queasy like that. Then again, what was left of Miss Andrews was not exactly your average homicide scene. Forensics and their bullshit theory of wild animal attack just weren’t cutting it for Briggs. That girl had been skinned alive: animals do not flay their food.
His scanner crackled to life. “All units, a disturbance has been reported at Fierce Brew Café at Yates and Broad. Destruction of property in an argument between a female suspect and the café staff. The suspect has fled the scene on foot and is described as 5’9” with green eyes and dark hair, wearing dark clothing. Suspect is considered dangerous.”
Briggs stared at his scanner in disbelief. The description of the suspect matched the description of Miss Andrews to a tee. True, there were likely a lot of women in the city that could match the description, but what were the chances they would be making a fuss at her favorite café?
He didn’t hesitate. Throwing his car into gear, he took off in the direction of the café, just in time to miss seeing a young woman with dark hair walking briskly down the street.
Back inside her apartment, Devon closed the door firmly and slid down onto the floor. Anxiety caused her breathing to race, panicked by what had just happened. Amidst the chaos of what had become her life, Devon grappled desperately with her thoughts. All she had wanted was to simply come home and repair herself. When she left Jenn’s farm, she’d felt the horrible things that had happened were outside herself; some random misfortune she could escape from. Now it seemed she was being pulled deeper into the abyss. This nightmare was stalking her, trapping her…
Feeling faint, she placed her head between her knees and took a deep breath. The beginnings of a full blown panic attack were creeping over her. An old sweater of Derrick’s lay crumpled in the nearest pile of clothes — she pulled it free and placed it as a makeshift pillow between her face and knees. His comforting smell grounded her, for just a moment. It reminded her of a time when life was simple and full of hopes and dreams. Every piece of this reality was slipping away. No matter how hard she pressed her face into the sweater, Devon knew there was no escape from it.
Those people did this. They must have done this to me. But how? Oh god, they know where I live! …..Shit! This is the first place they are going to look. What the hell am I doing just sitting here?
Back on her feet, she tossed Derrick’s sweater onto the floor. There was a backpack on the top shelf of her walk-in closet, the bi-fold door creaked as she pushed it fully open. Blindly she reached for it, spilling the rest of the shelf down to the carpet as she pulled. She muttered to herself as she tossed clothes and other essentials into the bag, quickly trying to make a mental list as she went. Devon was reeling at how careless she had been behaving. Aside from the bare minimum, she snatched a framed photo of her father, herself, and Derrick, from her side table: the only keepsake she grabbed.
The door handle to the apartment turned as someone tried to open it. Her body tensed preemptively while she stood frozen in the middle of the room. The lock on the apartment door began to rattle, thankfully in her stupor, she had remembered to turn the blot. Devon sprinted across the room while doing her best not to make a sound. The bathroom was the only place she could go, pulling the door shut softly behind her.
The front door opened, and a man’s voice called out: “Hello, is there anyone here? This is Constable Richards of the Victoria Police Department.”
A sound of footsteps shuffled through the clutter on the floor. After a considerable pause, she heard him call out to someone just outside the door. Devon recognized their voices; it was the two police officers from before.
There was another brief pause as his partner questioned the neighbor across the hall. “You sure you saw a young woman enter this suite?”
Shit! She thought. Stupid! I’ve been so stupid! The bathroom had one small window next to the sink, and luckily, it opened above the alleyway alongside the building. If she could climb through it, she would be able to drop herself onto the fire escape. She opened the window gently, holding her breath while she listened to the policeman poking around beyond the door. Just when she was about to step up onto the edge of the toilet, she realized he had stopped moving.
This time, she heard him address the other tenant himself. “Sir, please go back to your apartment and lock the door.”
Dammit. There would be no time to make it out the window now. She wrapped her backpack loosely with a large towel, placing it snug behind the claw foot tub. It blended in easily with the mess of the overturned bathroom. Then, she ducked down into the large cupboard beneath the sink. Contorting herself as best she could, she pulled her legs in and shut the doors. With one hand over her mouth, and every muscle compressed, she waited.
The officer called out: “If anyone is in there, I’m coming in, and I’m armed.”
As the bathroom door was kicked open, she gripped the hand over her mouth and nose tighter. A breeze from the open window rustled the shower curtain loudly, blowing the door shut behind him. She heard something bounce followed by an echo as the curtain knocked a shampoo bottled over into the tub. Footsteps moved closer to her hideout, pausing as his radio crackled into life. “This is dispatch, come in.”
“This is Richards. There is no sign of anyone in the apartment. It was just an open window blowing the door shut. We are going to lock up and wait downstairs for her father to arrive.” Satisfied with his response dispatch responded and Devon could hear his footsteps retreat back to the living room, shutting the door behind him.
“So what was it?” His partner asked, voice muffled by the door.
“Just the wind, besides the neighbor couldn’t even remember us being here earlier. I think his age and memory are a bit shot,” replied Richards.
“Maybe it was a ghost.” Richards’ partner chuckled. “You don’t think it was Briggs do you?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him. That guy is relentless with trying to figure out what happened to this girl. I told him if he’s not careful, that I will have to write him up.”
“You’re either brave or stupid. I personally wouldn’t mess with that guy. Anyways let’s get the hell out of here and go wait downstairs for her father. This place gives me the creeps.”
Nearly faint with relief, she listened carefully to the sounds they made, following each of their movements in her mind’s eye. Briggs? Not sure who this guy is, at least someone hasn’t given up on me.
After several minutes of hearing the door lock, Devon pushed open the cupboard doors, spilling out onto the floor and taking a deep breath. Not only had the cupboard been cramped, but it seemed to get stuffier and hotter as she hid. The first thing Devon did was reopen the window, scanning the alley below for more police officers. Satisfied that the coast was clear, she dropped her backpack out onto the fire escape and pulled herself through the window.
At the end of the fire escape, Devon found the ladder too rusted to be lowered down to the street. She kicked it gently a few times, trying not to make noise and draw attention; but it was no use.
Below her against the wall in the alley, whistling began. Devon wasn’t as alone as she thought she was. She watched as a skinny young man with spiky black hair came wandering out from beneath her, whistling away without a care in the world.
The young man turned on his heel looking up at her. “Need some help?” he shouted.
“Quiet!” Devon shushed him.
“Quiet? You’re the one banging and making all the noise up there. I was just trying to chill and have a moment of peace…”
Before he finished she tossed her backpack down to him. “Here, catch.”
His arm just about missed the bag, catching it by the handle before it hit the ground. He watched her in confusion she proceeded to dangle herself over the ten-foot drop. “Whoa! Hey, want some help?” Taking a few steps closer to Devon he placed himself underneath to help catch her fall.
Devon landed softly in a crouch on her feet. She sprang up, turning as she grabbed the bag from his hand. “Thanks,” she said graciously. Without any further need of assistance, she turned away and started running toward the end of the alley.
Once she reached the main street, Devon peered around the brick wall. Off to her left was a police car parked across two lanes of traffic, leaving her unsure of stepping out.
“Jesus, Devon,” she said under her breath, “if being paranoid were a crime, you’d be strung up by now.” How did her return home escalate into this? Secretly there was a thrill in evading the police that reminded her of a time long in her past. Devon would never forget sneaking out of her last group home in the dead of night, to successfully leave the North and make her way to Vancouver. Being able to determine her own fate at such a young age had been exhilarating. Back then she had a destination, and a goal in place. This time, she was tired and scared, and was unsure of how to proceed. She could go to her father, but something in her mind urged her not to draw him into all of this before she could know if he was safe. If those people had faked her death, what would they do to him?
“Well, I don’t know about paranoid, but I know talking to yourself is a sign of insanity. Not sure if that helps?” The face of her one-time accomplice was right beside her, staring down the street with her. While she had been trying to figure out how to get past the cops, he had snuck up on her.
Devon was startled as she pushed back against him, grabbing him and pining him to the wall.
“What are you doing?” She demanded.
The young man laughed, smiling brightly. “What? I was curious about why you were escaping that place. You are escaping, right? Hence the hiding around a corner? I’m right, right?”
“Look, thank you for catching my bag, but you have to go.” Devon let go of him and went back to looking for a chance to leave the alley.
“I’m Jesse by the way.” He strutted past her, right onto the cross walk as he viewed the area. “Ahhhh, the Po Po. Is that what has you hiding?”
Devon grabbed him by his leather jacket and pulled him back into the alley, out of sight from the police car.
“You’re a criminal, aren’t you? Did you just B&E one of those apartments?” He pointed towards her as he asked, shaking his finger like a lecturing teacher a few decades out of date.
Devon scoffed at his suggestion. “No, I’m not a criminal. That is my apartment up there.”
“But you are hiding from the Po Po, right?” His smile was almost excited now.
“Fine. Yes, I’m hiding from the police. Please, you have to go. The last thing I want is someone to be dragged into the mess I’m in.”
“I’m not really scared of the police.” Jesse began to pull out and light a cigarette, showing no signs of leaving.
Concern for him was now turning into annoyance. “Ok, it’s clear to me that you are not getting the message here, but I don’t have time for whatever this is.” She gestured back and forth between the two of them.
Both of Devon’s hands grabbed her hood, pulling it up and over her head as she turned away from him to make her break into the open street. Over the noise of the traffic in the busy street she could hear his laughter drifting away after her.
“Don’t worry, you’re not even my type,” he called out as he turned and started walking the opposite way.
With a final glance back up to her apartment from under her hood, Devon knew she wouldn’t be returning.
The weather was typical for this time of year, the pale grey sky loomed above with no real sign of rain. Devon’s eyes were dazed while making her way along the street, her thoughts and emotions had gone numb. This was probably her brain’s way of coping, shutting down after the overload it had suffered from already. Her languid state distracted her from the long walk across the city.
It didn’t seem as if much time had passed before she reached Mile Zero: the tip of the island and end of the Trans-Canada Highway. Really it was nothing more than a place for tourists to snap a few pretty photos from above, but for Devon this place was sacred. Just beside the benches for tourists to enjoy the view was the rickety wooden staircase leading down to a rocky beach.
The sound of stones grinding against each other soothed her almost instantly, as her feet touched the pebbled beach. The smell of the ocean air, the sound of the waves crashing, had cleared away her fears. Only her father and Derrick knew the importance of this place, so she felt safe that no one else would find her here.
Mile Zero was Devon’s home away from home, but it took her a while to find it after her escape from the North. A group of street workers in Vancouver had taken her in for a long while. Devon kept the apartment clean, and in exchange, the girls kept her clothed and fed. Over a several months, the women she grew to care for, began to go missing. Maven, the last of the women remaining told Devon that she was leaving the city. She handed Devon money and told her to leave as well, to take refuge on the island. She had suspected that someone had been targeting the girls and was worried they might come after Devon for being associated with them. It took only a few hours and Devon had crossed the water and arrived here at Mile Zero. The similarities of then and now were unnerving, no plan, just trying to figure out how to survive. The end of the Trans-Canada highway would always be her beginning, a place of safety and change. She wondered idly now what had become of Maven. Once Devon had left Vancouver, she never heard anything from her again. Normally not one to be sentimental, she hoped that the woman had been wrong, and that somehow she was safe. Maybe the other women had moved onto to different cities, like Devon had.
It would take her several minutes of climbing over the rocky shoreline to find the right place on the beach. As Devon kept going, she reached the second clearing where the beach was a softer mix of sand and pebbles. The space was sheltered both from the wind, isolating it from the rest of Dallas Road. Tourists and locals would rather not climb over large rock faces below the cliff line to reach it, and large bushes blocked the view from the pedestrian walkway far above.
Devon sat down onto a log, roughly in the same spot as one had been years before. The original had since been washed away by the flowing tides and storms, and yet somehow there was always one here, waiting for someone to sit and enjoy the oceans privacy. It was here she had met Mark, the man who later on became her father.
Even now, clear as the day it happened, Devon could picture him climbing over the hill in his unzipped army surplus jacket, fighting the wind that threatened to carry his baseball cap into the sea. A red bucket in one hand, and on the other side was a large green thermos tucked under his arm. Everything about his clean-cut image told her that he was someone comfortable with authority. Especially the fire department insignia on his chest, worn proudly like a superhero emblem, and his radio strapped to his belt. She had been sitting on the log in just this spot, shivering with cold and hunger, trying to warm herself with a small fire.
Not something she would admit until later, but he scared her then. From a distance, Devon couldn’t tell if he was an off-duty cop or someone who would report her to the police without hesitation. As an underage girl and runaway; she knew the outcome it would bring. The idea of returning to foster care wasn’t an option, not after all she had been through to keep her freedom. As his feet landed against the beach perimeter, Devon had already started randomly grabbing her few possessions in a panic. Whatever items she missed would be left there if she had to bolt up and over the rock face behind her.
“Whoa, wait kid, I come in peace. I even brought food.” Mark smiled as he lowered the red bucket onto the rocks, taking the thermos out from under his arm as an offering. Devon remembered how respectful his distance was. In order not to scare her further, he kept her small makeshift fire between them, just close enough to lean in hovering the thermos within her grasp. The night before was the last time she had eaten, and the sight of the thermos made her stomach growl despite her hesitation. Mark shook the thermos with a chuckle, promising her that it wasn’t poisoned.
As she ate, he radioed to the station to tell them he had the fire under control and began to explain to her that he was a fireman. Anyone could have put on a cap and shirt while claiming to be one, but there was something in his kindness that led Devon to believe him. She had become a good judge of character in her short life, and he didn’t seem to be the lying type.
He went on to explain that someone had reported seeing small wisps of smoke, which is why he came down. It wasn’t exactly procedure to have him deal with it alone, but living only a few blocks away, Mark had his routine for dealing with camp fires. Back then, whenever the fire chief received a call about a minor beach fire off that point, Mark asked to be the one to go down and make sure it was extinguished rather than trouble the police.
“Just a head’s up, daytime beach fires are never a good idea,” he’d explained, sitting down across from her on the rocks. “This spot is great, and night fires, usually aren’t visible to the local residents when it’s sheltered like this. Plus the cops don’t like climbing around the water at night.”
Devon picked up what he was suggesting to her, still she was surprised by his advice.
After a pause, he had added, “Not that I recommend fires in the first place, being that they’re dangerous. I’m just saying that in case people find themselves without any real shelter, the nights here get pretty cold and damp. This time of year is especially risky.”
Everything about Mark seemed unusual for her. It was rare to find an adult, especially someone of authority, who didn’t automatically lay judgment on her. The soup he’d brought was a bit watery, but she had gulped it down. The warmth made her grateful for the little sustenance and his laid-back nature.
Devon tried her best to tell him she was eighteen, even though she knew he wasn’t buying it. After talking a while in tentative circles, she slowly come to the topic of why she was there. She’d already failed at lying once, and something urged her to tell him the truth instead.
“Look, I’ll level with you. I’m not one of those kids who ran away because they didn’t get their allowance, or because they got slapped with a curfew, or something equally as stupid,” she had explained. “My parents aren’t out there somewhere worrying about me, and I have no home to return to.” With a sympathetic ear, Mark listened.
“Seriously, they don’t exist,” she said. “The only moment my old foster parents would have noticed, is when they needed me to get their check from the government so they can get their drink on.”
He took her story at face value without argument. “The way you talk, kid, I could almost believe you’re eighteen,” he’d said. “Sounds like you’ve had the shit end of the stick.”
This colorful expression made her laugh as she tried to hide it. “The way you talk is a little bit crass for a uniform,” she’d answered.
“You’re too young to be using words like crass, kid. A bit of a bookworm, eh?”
They looked at each other for a moment, before Mark broke out into a roar of laughter; followed by Devon. After that, Mark had helped her dispose of the fire and invited her to crash on his couch until she found a comfortable shelter. Mark was the first male adult Devon ever trusted. Devon expected to be there a few days, which turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months. It was on her birthday the following year that Mark asked Devon if she would be ok with him adopting her. That moment was one of the happiest moments of her life…
“That must be a great memory.” A girl stood politely in front of her next to a pile of driftwood logs.
Devon glanced up, her thoughts interrupted by the unexpected observer. She looked to be around seventeen, wearing a long bohemian skirt with jeans underneath tucked into her boots. Atop her head was a cascade of blond dreadlocks wrapped up in a gold and purple scarf, held high up over her thick wool layers. A few other harmless looking hippie kids were now climbing down over the rock face to accompany her.
It was the girl who had spoken, embarrassedly she smiled. “Sorry to startle you,” she said. “Is this beach spot yours for the night, or could we set up camp here with you?”
She paused while the rest of the group piled in behind her, giving Devon a moment to think. “You looked like you were having a beautiful moment, I didn’t want to interrupt,” she added. “My name’s Harvest.” Her smile grew larger in her excitement as she extended her hand. “I always get into the same distracted space when I’m having a good memory, too. Whatever it was, it had amazing energy.”
Devon felt embarrassed and could feel her cheeks blush. What a space cadet she would have looked like, sitting there on a log smiling wistfully to herself. Not even aware enough to have heard a whole group of kids approaching. There was no judgment on their end, these were the last people to mind. Devon shrugged breaking a smile. “Sure, why not? It’s a free beach.”
“Free beach!” one of the boys in the group whooped. “Yeah, man. This chick knows the truth, the beach is free.” He stooped closer to grasp a fistful of damp pebbles from a spot near his feet. “No one should own nature,” he declared solemnly.
Devon laughed, amazed at how some things never changed in this city. No matter what happened a new generation of beach kids would come. Both her and Mark would venture down together, bringing food and blankets to other kids in the cold weather. Some nights Devon would stay with them, spending time on this beach and sleeping under the stars in the company of great people. Kids like these had been some of her first real friends on the island.
“You’re lucky we came along,” one of them said, tossing down an extra blanket. “You wouldn’t have lasted the night out here, once the sun set.”
Harvest looked toward Devon with a dreamy smile. “The universe always gives you what you need,” she said. It couldn’t be denied, it felt as if something put these people in her path. The sky behind the girl’s head was lit in vivid pinks and oranges, the sun beginning to slip out of view as though sinking into the hillside.
Devon spent the next while getting acquainted with her new companions as they erected a makeshift fort from wooden logs and branches, talking well into the night. There was something about Harvest that captivated Devon; a level of courage that reminded Devon of her own. With an attentive ear, she learned that Harvest had come from a small town in Ontario, and had bravely started her own pilgrimage across Canada to find herself. With her thumb and a small pack, she hitchhiked her way across the country, making new friends to share her journey along the way. Planned of unplanned, just as it had been for Devon, Mile Zero was Harvest’s last stop in the hope of starting a new life on the Island.
Although she hadn’t much of an opportunity to sleep, Devon was glad to have a distraction from her own worries. Harvest’s company and the warm fire was just what she needed. The stars shone brightly, illuminating the beach as the sound of the crashing waves lulled the others to sleep. Each member of the crew now huddled beneath their shared blankets, using each other’s body heat to stay warm. Devon stared up at the stars between the gaps in the log shelter as she sent her thoughts to them. Please let Mark be alright, and please let me find a way to explain all of this so I can go home.
Home, was that even possible anymore? Devon’s attempt to go home earlier today, is how she wound up here at the beach, riddled with more questions than answers. Devon decided she would have to learn who the people in Sooke were, and what it was they needed from her. That had to be the best place to start. Her fear now was that they might choose to pursue her father as a means of getting to her…. she owed it to Mark to protect him from whatever mess she’d gotten into this time.
As the sky began to lighten and morning came, she slipped away from the huddle of slumbering teens without saying goodbye. Devon carefully draped her blanket over the snoring pile and made her way back up to Dallas road. At a cafe by the breakwater, she performed a makeshift shower, as she tidied herself in the bathroom sink. After fixing her makeup from the kit in her pack, Devon spent the last of her money on breakfast for herself and the beach crew, as a gesture of thanks.
When Devon returned, she found them all awake. They were already shaking the sand out their blankets, and folding up their belongings. Harvest graciously accepted the offering of food and divided it up equally amongst the group. It really was the least she could do for them, she didn’t want to entertain a night alone with her thoughts. Everyone appreciated it more than she had expected, tackling her in a clumsy group hug when she announced her final departure.
“I really wish you could hang out with us longer.” Harvest reached her arm out to help Devon from the dogpile.
“Thanks for the offer, but there is a lot I have to figure out, and I won’t find the answers here.” Devon stood up smiling at Harvest.
“Well if you’re ever in a dark spot, remember that you have your happy thought to keep you smiling.”
“Thank you Harvest; I won’t forget it.” Devon hugged the younger girl tightly and turned away before tears could start forming in her eyes. There was something about her energy that comforted Devon and reminded her of her past, but it was true; the answers were not here.
Out into the city she pushed onward, past the staircase and across the park. To solve the mysteries that had kept her awake, Devon knew she would have to start at the beginning.
It was quiet on the street as she waved a bus on, idling at the stop outside the front of Derricks building. It took about twenty minutes and several buses passing the stop before a tenant came along to open the door. Devon recognized Derrick’s next door neighbor, as the old woman came shuffling down the sidewalk with her walker. Perfect.
Finally reaching the building, the old lady fumbled with the door as she tried to open it wide enough with one hand while maneuvering her walker through with the other.
“Here let me help you.” Devon stepped forward, graciously offering to hold it open as she casually pretended at being a tenant herself.
Once inside the lobby, the old lady squinted, looking her over before heading to the mailboxes. Suspicious, the woman kept her eyes on Devon as she flipped through discarded mail. “You look very familiar. Did you just move in?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s right. Almost a month ago,” Devon answered cheerfully, shuffling a few unclaimed letters into her hand. “We’ve seen each other in passing, but I don’t think we’ve gotten to say hello yet.” She made sure to jingle her keys as she scanned the front of an envelope addressed to one Jane Wilkins.
The old woman had no interest in exchanging names with Devon. Why would she, since this was the most they ever talked? Instead, she accepted Devon’s story and wished her a good day. Head nodding with palsy, the old woman muttered as she made her way into the elevator as another man exited.
Devon would have to hold here for a few minutes, before pressing the button for the next elevator. Speed was not the woman’s forte, Devon needed to give the old gal enough time to leave the elevator and get to her suite; clearing the hallway before Devon came up.
There was just the right amount, as the new doorman was just returning from his rounds as he caught her eye. Devon gestured to the handful of mail with a smile. “More bills,” she shrugged. He smiled back in commiseration, entirely unconcerned as he watched the elevator doors close.
On the sixth floor, two levels below Derricks suite is where Devon stopped the elevator. Just in case the old woman decided to be extra slow, she decided to finish the next two floors via the stairwell that exited beside Derricks door.
Inside the hallway of the eighth floor, Devon covered her mouth in shock at the large brown stain that spread out across the corridor. Someone, probably the police, had cut away the carpet as evidence and expose the underfloor. Placing her hand on the bare surface as she knelt down, Devon was taken back at how far the damage extended.
“Oh Jackson, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, gripped with her unresolved guilt. In all of the chaos, she had barely thought about the security guard since that terrible night. Devon’s eyes winced against the memory of his terrible screams. Jackson was a good man, and never deserved such an end. If she hadn’t asked for his help, he would still be alive, still be with his family…
Devon couldn’t remain in the hall like this, crouched over a bloody stain, reliving its origin. It had always annoyed her that Derrick had never gotten around to having a spare key cut for the building’s entrance. If she had that key, she wouldn’t have needed Jackson’s help in the first place. Being able to assign blame is easy, not that it would change the past, or bring anyone back. This key, now in her hand was given to her for emergencies, and this was no exception.
Finally the knob turned and Devon opened the door to the scene of her life’s undoing. Each image flashed in front of her, reliving it all in vivid detail. Feeling the weight of Derrick’s body in her arms, the smell of the blood that had covered them both, and the frigid chill in the air. A few steps in, she was standing over the dark spot where his life had been extinguished. Her loves final words echoed deep in her mind: “It’s still here.”
In the air the musky scent of the beast which terrorized them returned to her with intensity, as though it were still here, even now. Across the room, a breeze drifted in from the shattered outer door. The creature’s size and ferocity left her wondering how anyone could have survived. How was it that she was still here while the others were dead?
Following her memories through the room in a fog, she was drawn towards the breeze of the balcony. Near the empty frame of the sliding door, a stray piece of safety glass crunched softly beneath her shoe. Just like her own home, Derrick’s condo had been turned inside out by the police. Just like the hallway, large portions of the carpet had been removed, as well as most of the furniture and items nearest the spot where Derrick had died. Although her purse had been amongst those missing, she wasn’t concerned: she knew something about this place no one else did.
From what she could see, the vent on the bathroom ceiling was still untouched. One foot at a time, she climbed onto the toilet seat, pulling the vent’s cover away with a shower of pale dust. Mentally Devon had to psych herself up before reaching her hand deep into the dark air shaft. On the tips of her toes, her nails were just able to reach the canvas bag Derrick had stashed inside months ago.
Returning to the floor, she placed the bag on the counter and began to unzip it. First out, she pulled several bundles of crisp bills, then a few energy bars, followed by an object wrapped in one of his old shirts. Hidden beneath the money and poorly camouflaged in his “spare outfit” was an old revolver Derrick claimed to have inherited from his father. As she unwrapped it, she could see that safety was switched off, and to her surprise the gun was fully loaded. Using her thumb, Devon turned the safety back on before reaching in and grabbed the box of spare bullets; all of which she tossed into her backpack. Her eyes looked up toward the ceiling, giving a little prayer of thanks for Derrick’s strange paranoia.
The presence of the gun now changed Devon’s playing field and brought forth thoughts of revenge. A swell of anger suddenly rose up from the pit of her stomach as she stood looking at herself in the mirror. Devon turned the faucet on, splashing cold water on her face in hopes to calm her temperament. From her past mental scars, came visions of things that may have been done to her at the house, things she still had no memory of and didn’t understand. Did they drug her? How did they remove her tattoos without any sign of scarring? What did they want with her? Worst of all, how were they connected to Derrick’s death and the beast that had delivered it? And what the hell is with this gold bracelet?!
Devon’s mind clamored with questions as her fist clenched tight, staring at the bracelet snug against her arm. Despite the chill of the water still beading on her skin, she felt an intense heat spreading through her body. Her right hand riddled with spasm’s, flew open, shaking violently, as bursts of arthritic like pain shot along her joints and wrist. It has been a decade since this level of anger and desperation filled her, something she hadn’t experienced since her early teens. Neither able to bear the ache in her limbs nor the rage building up inside, she punched the mirror impulsively with all of her strength. Devons reflection splintered outward with a heavy crunch, leaving a shallow crater into the wall behind it.
Everything went still with shock. What had she just done? Devon’s fury instantly subsided at the sight of her hand buried in the wall. It took a firm tug to free it from the shattered glass. She winced, expecting her knuckles to be a bloody mess. The pain mustn’t have yet registered; she was worried her hand might be broken or worse.
Cautiously, she pulled back her arm and released her fingers from their clenched position. Somehow just as it was at the river, there was no blood or torn flesh, only a dusting of powdered glass shimmering over her skin. Each of her fingers wiggled and flexed, as she looked at them in wonder. With a shake, the tiny mirror shards fell into the sink as she rinsed her hand beneath the running water. Satisfied there was no damage to her hand, she turned the tap off and looked closer at the mirror on the wall.
Staring ahead into her fragmented reflection, her mind cleared. She knew exactly where her next destination would take her. It was time to bring this chaos and uncertainty to a close. With her hand, she pulled the backpack off the counter, reaching in to reposition the gun along the side. Devon would have to hitchhike to get there, yet she was certain she could find the house if she crossed Jenn’s property and followed the river upstream.
Just as she reached the living-room, Devon discovered with outrage that she was no longer alone. Standing on the spot where Jackson had been killed, with his back up against the closed door was Rowland. He didn’t move, didn’t speak, simply stood there waiting, blocking her only means of escape. Devon dropped her bag, drawing the gun without a second thought as she switched the safety off. Taking her aim, the barrel was now pointed directly at his head.
For most people, she would expect some level of fear or panic. Instead, Rowland responded to her threat with an enigmatic smile. “You aren’t going to need that,” he said.
“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just keep this pointed at your face,” she replied sarcastically. “Seeing as you did kidnap me, oh yeah; and the eleven days of memories that are missing.”
Unconcerned with the gun, he stepped calmly away from the door, sitting down in one of the remaining chairs. “Will you please keep your voice down, there’s no need to shout.” All the while, his eyes were fixated on hers and not the revolver.
Somehow, each of his words felt patronizing; as if the gun was some kind of toy prop. His confidence and bearing made Devon begin to have sudden doubts. This new uncertainty still wasn’t enough to convince her against keeping the gun drawn at his head. “You’ve saved me some time,” she said. “I was just coming to find you. You owe me a lot of answers.”
Rowland leaned forward in the chair with an air of polite interest. His fingertips were pressed together against his chin as he took in a deep breath. “Then ask.”
The fact that Rowland seemed genuinely untroubled by the weapon was unnerving and suspicious. Devon hated that she couldn’t get a read on this man, a gift she relied so heavily on in her life was always being able to gauge people. Thrown off by the lack of Rowland’s resistance for the answers she wanted, her mind wavered over which one of the many questions to ask first. At random, she fixed on one. “How did you find me?”
Rowland nodded towards her hand, braced around the butt of the gun. “The bracelet. That’s how I found you. Honestly, I had assumed this is where you would come first, after your apartment.”
She glanced at the bauble, instantly shifting her eyes back to him. She wasn’t about to let him out of her sight. “What is it, some kind of GPS?”
He smiled with amusement. “I suppose it is, but not quite in the way you would understand it.”
“Fine, then who the hell are you?” she demanded. “Are you all in some kind of cult going around kidnaping girls?? Oh my god are you the Goldstream killer?” Her hand began to tremble from her now growing fear.
His expression turned grave. “No, we are not a cult. We did not kidnap you, and frankly I’m insulted that you could even think that.”
“What the hell else would I think?” Her voice began to rise with anxiety.
“Devon, we saved you.”
“You saved me? I think I’m gonna need a bit more clarification than that,” she said.
With a small sigh, Rowland leaned back into the chair. “We had to take you in,” he explained. “To decide on what was to become of you, and to protect you from others.”
Devon was caught at a loss. “What was to become of me?”
He stood up gracefully, adjusting his jacket. “Yes. No one like you has ever been created before. We did not know how you would end up, or, as I said if you would be a danger to anyone else.”
Devon pulled back the hammer on the revolver to reestablish her seriousness with the weapon “Look, I’m tired of this. I didn’t kill my boyfriend, all right? You can tell that to your secret vigilante group. There was… I don’t know, some kind of rabid animal in here. That’s what did it.” Devon was unsure why she even needed to defend herself in the first place.
Rowland looked to the ground. “That was not meant to happen,” he spoke softly, his voice filled with regret.
The implication of his words sunk in and she went completely white. “What do you mean that wasn’t meant to happen?” she whispered, barely able to take a breath. Still holding the gun pointed at his head, she stepped closer. “Wasn’t meant to happen?” she repeated. “What do you know about what happened?” Her voice was rising further, her eyes locked on his face. “Were you here? Was that your fucked up pet or something, is that it?”
For the first time, she sensed discomfort in Rowland. Looking into his eyes, Devon knew she’d hit on something crucial. She breathed in deeply through her nose, preparing herself to do whatever was necessary. Around her, the lingering scent of animal musk teased, only this time it was stronger than before. The same smell that had blended with the pungent tang of Derrick’s blood, the one that had come to her through the perfume of the forest pines…
“You…..” She stepped away from him, realization and horror finally dawning.
Rowland’s brow creased in a look of deep sadness that seemed to span lifetimes. “This is not how it was meant to be.” With no further explanation, he raised his hand. Devon could see that he wore a bracelet like hers, only larger and heavier. Beneath it, his wrist was encased in an ornate sleeve, fashioned from the same shining metal. Rowland’s jaw was tense, every tendon in his neck defined as he focused all of his attention on his upraised arm.
Fascinated and terrified, she stared as his hand contorted from a fist into a tortured grasp, every finger rigidly stretched back. A long exhalation escaped Rowland’s lips as the flesh began to tear, splitting open in deep fissures across the skin. Black claws broke through his fingertips, curved and vicious. As large pieces of Rowland’s skin slid down to his elbow, breaking off along the edge of the metal cuff; falling wetly onto the bare floor.
Devon’s mind refused to trust what she was seeing. Her arms shaking, caused the gun to lowered slightly. Rowland stood resolute, displaying the black fur-covered paw that emerged from his wrist, as he pulled the last bit of broken flesh away with his other hand.
“I’m afraid that things are much more complicated than what your mind created,” he said.
She tried to raise the gun, but her trembling limbs were unwilling to meet the challenge. “What the hell are you?” she breathed.
“I think the question you need to ask yourself, Devon… is what, exactly, are you?”