At some point in the ride I realise that I’m unconscious. With another witchy plus, and a active minds-eye. I watched the streetlights dissolve into farmland and forest and the bike race along a dirt road in my mind. Then a cluster of barns being carried in Hallam’s easy swagger was brought into the cellar of one of them, and laid down on a camping type bed.
Sometimes the lights are on, sometimes they’re off.
Other girls move about. Every now and then one of them comes over to check on me.
When the cellar door opens everyone freezes. No one from outside comes down here, but if someone’s name is called out that girl disappears forever.
Three days later my brain gains enough function to begin telling myself how completely stupid I am. What the hell was in that drink?
I was safer with the beer, even if his girlfriend was going to try and kill me over it.
Groaning I sit up on the bed and begin looking around for a toilet, and if I can’t spot that quickly enough I need somewhere else I can throw up.
There’s a flushing sound and I rush for the source of the noise. Heaving up vial, because I haven’t eaten in a week, I wait for the nausea to pass. Thank the goddess for my paused metabolism or I’d have a mess to deal with in my pants too.
Stumbling out of the bathroom I get a different view of my accommodation. The minds-eye is not so good with details, especially when some kind of drug is involved. All I was really aware of is the people and the state of light or dark.
Now I can see that the room’s big, with stone supports, a hard dirt floor and a layer of concrete over our heads; making the place pretty sound proof. Dotted about in no real order are benches, fold out camping beds, a pool table, a table tennis table and a few couches. There’s a bathroom in the back, which I just found, but other than that there are no other walls or rooms. It reminds me of a youth club sleepover. Beside me a dumbwaiter creaks to life and the gazes of the other girls turn from appraising me, too eager anticipation of whatever’s inside.
A blond closes her book and stands up. She saunters across the room, dressed in tight black leather pants and knee high boots I’m willing to bet her last outside activity was also visiting a night club.
She yanks open the tiny elevator and grabs the big brown box from inside.
The scents are amazing, hot meat, fresh bread, stewed apples. Unable to stop myself I follow the box across the room and join the cluster of girls as the lid is lifted and hands dive in.
Everyone moves away with their meals, and I get a chance to look at what’s on offer. It seems to be more boxes; this time the smaller white takeaway type. There’s two left.
“Go ahead, they’re all the same,” someone says.
I offer her, a pretty African American with the type of smooth hair that costs good money, a tentative smile, collect a box and take the nearest seat at an oversized dining table.
She sits down next to me, but my full attention is on my box. I pull the lid up and even before I can comprehend that there is food in front of me my hand dives in and shoves a whole bread roll into my mouth.
“Hungry?” my table companions laughs.
I gaze at her properly, taking in her small frame and gentle brown eyes. She’s in a long dress with a tribal type print on it. Georgios really.
“Well, you’ve been unconscious for three days.”
“I know,” I mumble.
“Oh,” she says, picking at her tray of roast meat and vegetables. “We would have told someone you were still out, but there’s no real way to communicate with them. Most times the girls wake up within hours.”
My gaze rolls up towards the ceiling, whilst my fingers shove steaming hot meat into my mouth.
“Who,” I manage to say between chewing and swallowing.
She shrugs. “We just call them ‘them’. Never spoken to anyone, just a voice when they call one of us out and they inspect us once a week, but we don’t interact with them,” she pauses to rub her arms like she’s cold – or scared – “Except when we first get brought here, of course.”
“Thought I met a cute guy.”
“Same as we all did,” another girl says. She dumps her box onto the table and sits down. “So don’t go thinking you’re anything special.”
“At the club?”
“Yeah.” She nods slowly. “I’d never even been out before, never even had a chance to finish my first drink.”
“How old are you?” I ask, mixing my apple pie and my mashed potato together. “Just turned nineteen, Mother gave me a big lecture. Forbid me to do stupid things like buying fake ID’s or going out clubbing when I should be finishing my studies. I thought there was no harm in it. Thought I wasn’t a kid anymore. Wish I thought differently.”
Everyone else is kind of listening, kind of pretending to mind their own business and eat their own meals – so I gather this is the first time this girl, or maybe any of them, has shared her story. And I’m really bad with these kinds of awkward consoling moments. What do I say?
I shove a semi cooked carrot into my mouth and look back at my first companion. “Name?”
“We don’t give out our names,” the blond calls out across the room. “Because when we escape we never want to remember this place again and we don’t need you wedging stories into our memories.”
A chuckle urges its way up my throat and I almost choke trying to get the carrot down past it.
“That’s stupid,” I say, but then my mouth is full again.
“Amy,” my companion whispers. “My names Amy.”
I smile at her. “I’m Rowena.”
The blond scoffs. With her white box in her hands she stalks across the room and tosses it onto the table.
“We’ve got rules,” she says. “Some of us have been here for months and we’re not going to let the likes of you go messing things up on us.”
As if things are obviously going so well for her right now. I swallow my last mouthful and frown at the empty box before me. Then at her half full box.
“You going to finish that?” I ask the blond.
Before she can respond I flip the lid open and her untouched roll is in my hands.
Her jaw drops.
“Ever had your ass kicked?” she growls.
A metallic thump echoes through the room and almost audibly every girl’s breathing stops.
“You’re just in time,” Amy says.
“Our weekly inspection.”
Someone on the other side of the door whistles and the girls file forwards.
While they’re moving, almost zombie like towards the light, I devour Blondie’s meat, freckle’s apple pie and take a walk around the room to collect as many bread rolls as I can carry. In line behind Amy I’m the last to step through the doors.
Squinting into the sunlight I walk and eat. The textures under my feet change, from hard floor, then wooden ramp, to soft straw in the barn and then grass outside it.
It’s later than I thought, right on sunset, but even with clouds covering the sun it’s still brighter out here than it was in the cellar.
We’re mustered into a big round yard. Like the type of thing you’d expect to see horses or cows in. Filing in from the other side are twenty odd boys, equally as dazed by the light as we are. I glance over them, wondering if my crimson eyed motorbike rider is there.
No. He’s leaning against the wooden railing wearing a leather jacket. His eyes are darker now, almost black. Wonder if that’s his natural colour?
As he runs his tong over his teeth his gaze slides over all of us. Perhaps, instead of contacts he should have invested his money in some dental work. He has serious fang issues.
Beside me Amy begins to shiver uncontrollably.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I lie. I’ve got food and shelter. No one is trying to harm me right now. This is no worse than the time I was thrown in a shipping container with thirty other sex slaves.
But Amy isn’t the only one struggling to remain standing. The fear that these humans are feeling has to be because of our captures; I’m just not feeling it. Which I’ve never encountered before – and that should scare me.
There are only five of them and not one of them is waving a gun around. I doubt any of them are even carrying guns. If we all ran off in different directions most of us would escape. Surely five guys can’t chase us all down. There are fifteen girls and more boys. We could take them if we tried.
But no one moves.
I begin to devour another of my bread rolls, tucking the remaining two under my arm.
Hallam’s gaze lands on me and he smiles like the fact that I am eating bread rolls is funny.
I stick my tongue out at him and watch his jaw drop in shock. A sense of accomplishment bubbles inside me.
“Well, take your pick,” one of the other men says.
Their accent is strange. It’s not even an accent, they still sound American, but they’re talking really fast and in a very low tone.
Three men slip between the fence railings. Their movements are also strange, watching them is like watching a movie in fast-forward, as they walk along the line of whimpering boys, most in their older teens. One second they’re in front of the first boy, the next they’re smelling the second, but if I wasn’t watching closely I would have missed the movement. Like they’re rushing every movement – or rushing is their normal speed.
I stick my last two bread rolls into my pockets and wait for the men to get to me. It’s unmistakable, the way the air temperature drops, and the change in scent too. They’re not exactly human, which means Hallam isn’t either, but I worked that out ages ago.
What I need to work out is what exactly they are, not what they aren’t
The first man, dressed in an upper-class type fashionable long cloak and top hat, smells Amy. Literally he leans in and sniffs her like she’s a fresh cooked roast pork with crackling on top. Shit that’s weird.
“She’s pure,” he mutters.
His companions nod.
Pure, what like a virgin? Wouldn’t surprise me, she’d never been to a club before. The man leans in and sniffs her again, while nodding with a content glint in his dark, almost black eyes.
But he doesn’t want her sexually, he wants to eat her. She’s never had a drink, probably never had drugs in her life, she’ll taste pure. My stomach turns.
“We’ll have her,” he says.
Amy is gone. It feels like the wolf has sewn rocks in my belly. I know, it’s a stupid Grimm fairy tale, but when you’re a witch you’re raised on fairy tales and that is exactly how I feel.
“Hey, who stole my apple pie?” Freckles shouts.
Guilty, I think, and my eyes open wide in that guilty kind of way too. I know, because they meet Blondies gaze and she smiles crookedly at me.
“The new girl did,” Blondie says.
“You what!” Freckles then shouts, and her heavy frame begins to barge towards me.
I jump back and put a couch between us while dodging backwards and forwards so she can’t get around to me.
“Hey, I already feel like my whole body is about to putt a part from stress will you two cut it out,” someone shouts.
“You owe me your pie,” Freckles growls, pointing a warning finger at me.
“There’ll be more pie?” I ask, hopeful.
“Yeah, three square meals a day,” the girl sitting on the couch says.
I move cautiously around and sit next to her. She’s hugging a pillow and rubbing her arms like she’s cold – or still scared.
“Are you a ‘no names’ type of girl?” I ask.
She nods slowly. “I don’t even want to think. I don’t want to feel. I don’t want to be here.”
“I agree with you on the last part.”
Silence... Great! I’m really not good at this conversation and consoling stuff.
“Um... so... You mentioned more food?”
“Yeah, the elevator will deliver three boxes a day.”
I look around at the dumbwaiter at the far end of the room. “Ever tried to get out in that thing?”
Her eyes open wide, shocked? “Why would we?” She whispers.
“They let us go, one by one. Eventually we all leave. If we try to escape they’ll kill us.”
“And they told you that?”
“I told her that,” Blondie says, crossing the short distance to us and perching on the edge of a nearby table. “The only thing going up in the dumbwaiter is the rubbish.”
I cock my head at her, realising that she knows a lot, considering no one has read me the riot act I’m guessing everyone else here got their orders from Blondie too. So they’re Blondies rules, not our captors.
“And what makes you think they just let Amy go?”
“Of course they let her go. I mean they might do some weird sex shit with her first, but there’s too many of us to be killing us. The media would work it out, our parents have all called the police and there’s too many of us to be digging graves.”
“Not mine,” my neighbour says.
“Nor mine,” Freckles calls out.
“Shut up. Yes they have. You’ve been gone for three weeks.” Blondie waves at Freckles. “Even if your parents hated you, they’d know you’re gone by now.”
“Not mine, foster kid. No parents,” my neighbour explains.
“Yeah, me too, kind of,” I say, my past is too complicated to explain.
Blondie looks ready to launch across the room and strangle me.
“Oh, but I am sure your parents did,” I say, waving reassuringly towards her.
Not that I think the police or anyone’s parents or any kind of media is going anywhere near this place. They have perhaps thirty people here. I was one of two hundred slaves on my way to the sex trade and no one battered an eyelid when we passed over boarders or were herded into a compound. If I hadn’t set fire to the bush around the place and flushed the guys with guns out, the police weren’t even going to listen to me.
Rushing didn’t help me then, but I still have a few spells that work.
I unlooped my shirt sleeve from my thumb and stare down at my tattoo.
“Cool tat,” my neighbour says.
“Yeah,” I mutter. It gets compliments all the time. People don’t realise that it’s the magic in it that they’re attracted to.
It helps us hide, when people are mesmerised by our very presence. The tattoo inhibits my magic, blocks 99.9% of it. So people aren’t mesmerised by me anymore, but they’re still all goo and gaaa over my tattoo.
“So, what are we supposed to do now?” I ask.
“Wait. There’s nothing to do but wait until either they call a name out, we get another inspection, or the food arrives.”
“Mmm, food,” I mumble, already ravenous.