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The harsh light blinds me. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to protect them. Too late, the damage is done.
I lie facedown. My ribcage groans. I part my lips, trying to inhale fresh, clean air. Instead, I receive a mouthful of dust.
Where am I? I see the rotating fan, fracturing daylight from outside as it clicks.
I try to move. I can’t. The pain is too great.
I pull my hand away from the back of my head, feeling sticky warmth. Grimacing at my own blood. Whatever it was, it had struck my optic nerve.
Optic nerve. A term I barely remember through the haze of my brain. Words from the Biology textbook, a book I’d stolen from a visiting student. A subject I was forbidden to study but insatiable to learn. I read the dog-eared copy hidden behind hay bales, my only friend a flashlight.
My dress and apron are gone. My cap also. Long, uncut hair flows down my back, sprawling out onto the floor. Instead I wear a strange item, tight fitting. I’d seen visitors wear similar, modern clothes. I think they called it a ‘T-shirt’.
I hear a creak and a door opens, momentarily flooding the room with light. I shriek, hands flying to protect my eyes. In the darkness, I see a boy. He looks slightly older than me. He doesn’t wear the community’s clothes. His hands aren’t calloused from carpentry or working in the fields.
I realise he must be my capturer, or at least an accomplice. I squirm as he approaches. My reputation will be ruined if anyone finds us. Of course, I will be innocent. But that doesn’t stop gossip circulating. Rumours that I was alone, missing, with a boy from outside the community. That is, if anyone notices I am gone.
He crouches. I have curled into a ball, hugging knees to my chest. I am near the light, taking protection despite its futility.
His irises are pale. As if they have seen many lifetimes, their pigment lost with age. His skin is deathly, deep bruises in the hollows of his cheeks. I try hiding my gasp, but it still escapes me.
He hushes, comforts my trembling form. Smoothing his hand through my hair, telling me I am safe. My head is tucked between my knees, rocking back and forth.
I don’t know why I am so scared. Maybe I finally realise I am far from home. There aren’t industrial places like this in farming country. Not where I’m from, anyway.
And this boy can’t be older than fifteen, sixteen at most. He is small and skinny. Not the most terrifying of predators.
Before I can talk, he is grinning. His teeth extended, pulling back from his gums like a dog anticipating attack. Sharp points; two of them. Knives. They look like small knives.
For a moment we are silent whilst I am stunned. What is this? I have an urge to reach out, feel those teeth for myself with my own fingertips. Instead, I find him biting my neck, sucking the blood from my limp body.