I stirred. Groggy and disoriented as I was, I was aware of my own blinking, but all I saw was darkness. In my panic, it took me a moment to realise that was in a pitch black room—a cell? Basement?
It was freezing cold, my teeth chattered so hard my jaw had begun to hurt. My heart climbed up my throat as seconds ticked past. I couldn’t even see my own fingers in front of me. Where am I? How long have I been here?
I rubbed my arms up and down, feeling gooseflesh all over my skin, and patted myself all over. I was wearing nothing but a spaghetti-strap top and shorts with tights—there was a massive tear in it. I felt bruises on wrists, abdomen, and right thigh—I don’t recall how they got there. Maybe I put up a fight? I’ve lost my coat—at least, I remembered wearing a coat—and my shoes weren’t on my feet. But other than that, I still seem to be in one piece.
There was a thick, musty smell around me. Damp. Earthy, almost. And dust, lots of it. This place could use a good hoovering. I pressed a palm against the wall; it was smooth, but I couldn’t tell what material it’s made of—maybe brick-and-mortar that’s been painted over. My suspicions were confirmed when I felt a crack in the wall, then the smoothness gave way to a rough, gritty surface, like old bricks.
Thoughts stormed through my mind, panic rose in my chest, but I managed to keep myself calm. Come on, Riley. Think! I sifted through my options. Brick wall. Darkness. The room was cold, draft-y; that means it has to come from somewhere. I could be in a basement or cellar of some sort. And if I was, then there has to be a door. Or any other opening, like a window. There has to be!
Either that, or find a light switch, hope that the lights will do its job, then reconsider my options.
I rubbed my hands and arms furiously, trying to bring some warmth back into me. Then slowly, I pulled myself to my feet—there was a dull throbbing in my left ankle—and started walking, feeling the wall as I went. As I moved, I retraced my steps, trying to figure out how I ended up here in the first place.
A party . . . it was Jade’s sweet sixteen. There was a bunch of us at her house—the whole grade, I think. There was alcohol involved. I recalled my friends drunk-karaoke-ing, me drinking for the first time because my parents weren’t around and I figured a couple of drinks wouldn’t hurt. Everything else was fuzzy, nothing but a puddle of images rippling in my head—I can just see the pictures, the memories waiting for it to become a full-blown realisation, but nothing was too clear for me to make out. It was frustrating; I was tempted to bash my head against the wall to see if that would help jog my memory, but I highly doubt it would help.
My fingers brushed over another crack. Then another. And another. The wall seemed endless. How big is this room? The soles of my feet were growing numb from walking on the chilly floor, and my hands—
I froze, waiting for the sound to come again. It did. Was that a door? Did someone just walk in? Hesitantly, I took another step forward.
Something grabbed my wrist, nails digging into my skin. I shrieked as a sharp pain shot up my arm, and I struggled to get free. Whoever—whatever—had me was breathing hard onto my face, the disgusting warmth made me gag. How did I not hear them come in? How did they get in here?
“Let me go!” I shouted and flung at my captor blindly with my free hand, only to recoil from the stinging pain and scream again as I had forgotten that the hand I had hit him with had a bruise on it.
“No need to raise your voice, darling,” said my captor. His voice was guttural and foreboding; there was a hint of a threat there. It sent uncontrollable shivers down my spine. “No one can hear you down here.”
So I was underground. I struggled again, my breathing ragged. “Who are you? Why am I here? Why did you bring me here?”
He laughed derisively. “My, we have a precocious one in our hands.”
What a condescending douche!
I felt his hand on my shoulder, toying with my shirt strap, yanking at it until it fell down my shoulder. My insides squirmed with disgust and I smacked him across the face with my bruised hand again. The pain didn’t matter to me; I needed to get away from this creep.
“Don’t you fucking touch me,” I growled, “or I’ll—”
“Or what, little girl?” he sneered, clearly unfazed by the slap. I could almost hear the evil smirk in his voice. “Don’t you get your knickers in a twist, pet. I’m not going to hurt you. Wouldn’t want to damage the goods now, do we?”
I went limp when his words registered; if it weren’t for him still gripping on my wrist or the wall, I would’ve collapse. My knees trembled, knocking against each other.
“Nothing you should worry your pretty little head about,” he went on. Despite my fear, I wished I had something in my hand wanted to wallop this man with. A flowerpot, a baseball bat, hell even Buddy’s chew toy will do. His tone was really getting on my nerves. “Just so you’re aware, love, this is only the beginning. You’re going to be a part of an even bigger scheme.”
A scream was building up in my throat, but it wouldn’t come out. I was frozen stiff; I was sure my heart was in the same state, too.
Part of an even bigger scheme? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
“Who are you? What do you want to do with me?” I had meant to scream it at him, but my shock and horror had made my voice go high-pitched and squeaky.
He began to say something, but I wasn’t listening. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a tiny, dim sliver of light. My heart pounded, but this time for an entirely different reason. An ajar door!
I didn’t have time to think of why I hadn’t noticed that before. I turned to face my captor, screamed, “That’s what you think!” and kicked him in his jewels. He let out a hiss of pain and released my hand, now throbbing with relief, before crumpling to the floor. I kicked him in the ribs for good measure, then made a dash for it.
I tripped up the creaky wooden steps and burst through the door. Immediately, I was greeted by a flood of yellow lights that blinded me. It took me a few moments to gather my bearings and look around.
I was in a dimly-lit corridor; it was sparse and had grimy walls and a flickering light attached to the ceiling. I had no time to dwell on it. On instinct, I headed left and broke into a run.
I scurried around, madly looking for an exit. The place was empty so far, but I still had the feeling that I was being watched. I headed right, I reached a similar looking corridor. Then another right, then a left. I heard faraway voices, but they sounded close enough for me to hear what they’re saying. “Where did she go? Get her before she escapes!”
I kept running.
I skidded to a stop when I saw a door. It didn’t hit me until much later that this was the only door I’ve seen the whole time I was searching for an escape route. Cautiously but hurriedly, I pressed my body against it and turned the doorknob as quietly as I could.
I was half-expecting to see a vacant room, a dead end of some sort. I wasn’t expecting to see a group of girls, in various states of undress, huddled in all corners of the room, bound and gagged.
My mouth fell open at the sight of them. One of them, the closest one sitting slumped directly across me, caught my eye, her eyebrows shot up her forehead. She looked so sickly and bedraggled, she couldn’t have been older than me.
Her eyes suddenly widened and she made a hoarse, distressed noise.
Then I understood what she was doing.
I whirled around but it was too late. A blunt object struck me across the forehead and I crashed to the floor. The girl’s muffled scream was the last thing I remembered.