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The Open Door

By , Del Valle, TX
“She’s over there! Behind the alley!”
Through the clamor of the wind and rain, I barely heard the almost imperceptible yells of my unseen followers. Quickly, I twisted my head from side-to-side in search of shelter.
As I took in my environment, I knew they were close behind me. I heard footsteps through the rain, followed by livid shouts and screeches. When I heard someone howl, “I see her!” I darted towards the left; tears cascading down my eyes, mixing with the rain that fell furiously above me.

In this forsaken city, I was all alone, excluding these unknown followers who had chased me far from the bright lights of the city. While I scurried away from the shouts, midnight crept over the abandoned streets, igniting my vision in hazy fog. Thunder rolled through the sky, lingering in the wind even after the noisy blare. Slowly, a dark alley came into my clouded view. Only I saw a haven, a somewhat safe place to hide while five strangers roamed the city for me.

Turning the corner, I stumbled over something I was unable to see and I suddenly slumped forwards. My knees smacked the asphalt first, shortly followed by my hands. Ricocheting off the impact, my head plummeted into the street.

As blood trickled into my mouth, my head promptly exploded in pain. Chocking on the added liquid, I swallowed the blood invading my mouth as screams and shrieks tumbled out before I could stop them. Unable to hold myself up, my arms fell painfully out from under me, and I rolled over on my back, starring up at the sky. Suddenly, the moon began to duplicate itself, separating each one individually across the blackened sky, and the clouds suspended in the atmosphere suddenly started trading places with each other.

As I lay there, recoiling from the rough contact with the asphalt, I was no longer able to obtain my consciousness, and my head began to feel hazy and unclean, my eyelids becoming too heavy to keep open. Very slowly, my eyes commenced fluttering closed, although I was still aware of my surroundings: the rain falling furiously over me, my body becoming numb from my cold, water-soaked clothes, and the rolls of thunder from the sky. Then I suddenly lost all control over my body as I lied completely immobile.

As a feeble attempt to be heard, I tried again to scream and fidget as I lay in a frail heap on the ground. The last thing I remembered before the blackened sky above me swallowed me whole was the clamors of approaching footsteps.

When I slowly began to regain my consciousness, I was still only half aware of my surroundings. Without opening my eyes, I knew I wasn’t outdoors. Not enough sounds, the lack of wind and the comfortable temperature in the atmosphere all seemed to tell me I was indoors.

With my eyes still closed, I suddenly realized I was being carried. I felt an arm wound around my shoulders and another one behind the back of my knees. Once I vaguely noticed the tightness of my captor’s hold, I knew I was imprisoned.

Damp air whipped at my hair and face as my carrier sped up, carrying me to an unknown place. As an attempt to take it my surroundings, I struggled to open my eyes. I squirm and fidget with the features of my face. Nonetheless, the endeavors are futile.

It’s like they’re sowed shut, I deemed with a sudden surge of fear.

Faint and indistinctive sounds released no knowledge concerning my whereabouts. I heard weak whispers; however, they all merged together, making it impossible to perceive what was being said. The pitter-patter of footsteps around me soon became my only reliably proof that I was at least accompanied by others, seeing as my eyes still remained closed.

I felt my limp body fall out of the arms of my invisible captor, and I was unexpectedly wrenched back to consciousness. I felt my body fall to an unresponsive heap on the floor. Feeling the cold matter against my back made me consider the floor was made of concrete. I writhed against the hard floor for a few moments, detecting an ache along the shoulder I landed on.

Having not quite regained the awareness of my surroundings, I could weakly make out more footsteps, shortly followed by a loud bang! which reminded me of metal hitting metal that lingered in the air even after the blast was gone. The footsteps of my kidnapper got quieter and quieter until they eventually disappeared altogether.

Suddenly bright, yellow light lit up the canvas covering my eyes. In a matter of moments, I was able to pry them open. While cool air reached my exposed eyes, I squinted them shut again, recoiling with sensitivity.

Beginning behind my eyes, I felt a sharp pain swell to a piercing sting as my eyes remained closed from the tenderness. After waiting impatiently for a moment, my eyes gradually adjusted to the bright lights of wherever I am; although they still felt awfully sore.

“It’ll take a while for that to wear off,” a voice behind me suddenly mentioned.

Utterly stunned by the unexpected voice, I unthinkingly turned my head from side to side in search of the origin. At the same time, I seemed to have remembered I was half blind and promptly abandoned the futile task.

Instead, I noticed the deep tone of the voice; I knew it had to be a boy. However, the indolent manner of his words made me believe he was too young to be a man. Without seeing him, I guessed late teens.

“It helps if you just keep your eyes,” he added in that same leisurely nature. “Trust me; it’ll burn for a while.”

Although I was a little apprehensive about taking advice from an invisible stranger, I decided to attempt his suggestion. Merely trying to ignore the stinging sensation that surfaced once I opened my eyes, I gratefully found he was right.

Opening my eyes as wide as I could, damagingly bright light seeped through my half-opened eyes lids and flickered in front of my eyes. The burn increased by the second, but I continued to force my eyes wide open.

Slowly, my surroundings came into focus. Firstly, I saw large, steel metal bars. Prison-like caging surrounding what I later learned was a small chamber. I was right, however, about the floors—they were indeed concrete. Discoloration of the matter marked the floor on which I remained seated, too stunned to move.

In front of me stood metal bars, but to my right and left posed concrete walls lined with illegible graffiti. Glancing beyond the bars, I identified nothing. Dark shadows loomed in the soft light encompassing what I thought of as a prison. Nothing else adds to the gloomy cell.

Turning around to peer behind me, I shrieked in alarm. Lying apathetically on a cot pushed up against the far wall rested a boy with his hands folded behind his neck. His dark brown hair spilled over his forehead, almost touching his eyes.

He doesn’t know I’m here, I considered for a moment, but then I remembered he spoke to me earlier, sharing advice on my burning eyes.

Once more I was right about my previous assumptions; he was roughly in his late teens—probably sixteen or seventeen.

From my place in the corner, I couldn’t distinguish the color of his eyes. Nonetheless, I knew they were dark as he stared up at the ceiling with an expression of abhorrence clinging to his face.

Remaining motionless, I stayed quite and unspeaking, hoping he would finally notice my company and speak first.

Maybe he knows why I’m here…

When I mentally counted fifty-eight seconds while he simply continued to stare soundlessly at the ceiling, I cleared my throat. The gesture wasn’t exceptionally loud; I only wanted to receive his attention, which I surprisingly did.

“How’s your eyes?” he asked, his voice dripping with impassiveness. He asked as if we were acquaintances who had met before—not two strangers thrown in the same holding area.

“Um… I think they’re fine now,” I stammered, having not yet realized I was nervous to speak. “I think they’re almost back to normal.”

I waited several moments, but he never spoke. Finally, I asked, “Do you know what that stuff was?”

“No,” he denied harshly with a shake of his head. “No idea. It happened to me though.” For the first time, he finally looked at me. His dark brown eyes swiftly widened, and I noticed his eyes were slightly sunken, causing minor shadows to play over his eyes.

Continuing to stare at the ground, I heard him ask, “Stings, doesn’t it?”

I nodded in agreement as I braced myself to meet his fixed, startling gaze. However, I glanced up to see him with his head once again resting on his forearms behind his head, that same bored expression arranged on his face.

For a brief moment, I wondered how long he had been here for, but I didn’t press the matter long. I let my mind wander for a few minutes, contemplating where I was, who brought me here… and what they wanted with me.

“I’ve been here since I was fifteen,” he suddenly interjected.

I didn’t ask that out loud I realized with panic. I didn’t ask that out loud… right?

I decided not to pry if I asked that out loud in fear of sounding ridiculous. “And how old are you now?”

“Seventeen,” he stated plainly. “You?”

“Fifteen. And a half.”

He laughed at that, the first time I’d seen him show any signs of amusement. “A half, huh? When’s your birthday?”

“Um… July.”

He nodded curtly. “Mine’s in November.”

“That’s coming up,” I acknowledged, noting that November was only next month. “You’ll have been here almost… three years.”

Again, he nodded. Nothing about his face revealed any emotion, or thoughts.

“Shouldn’t you be a little more…?” I scrabbled for the right word, “Concerned?”

“Concerned?” he echoed me with the slightest hint of mockery. “About what?”

“You’ve been locked up in here for three years… That doesn’t bother you?”

“Oh. That.” He shrugged, oblivious to the evident peril of this situation. “It’s been so long. I guess it doesn’t bother me, you know?”

“No,” I replied, utterly stunned at his answer. “I cannot fathom how any of this is okay with you.”

“I didn’t say it was okay with me,” he snapped crossly. “I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.” Quickly abandoning my gaze, he returned back to glare angrily at the ceiling.

“Oh,” I said awkwardly.

Patiently waiting for a moment, he remained silent. Questions welled up inside me. Quietly, I whispered, “Do you know why I’m here?”

He shrugged and answered, “Everyone’s different.”

“Everyone?” I echoed. “You mean there’s more? More than just me and you?”

Uncontrollably, words began to spill out of my mouth until he suddenly glared at me with a piqued expression.

I apologized quietly, even though my mind was still reeling with questions I so wanted to verbalize.

“Yeah, there’s more,” he confirmed. “Not much. Only about fifteen.”

Trepidation escalated inside me, forming a thick knot in my throat. “Who’s doing this? Who’s keeping me here?”

When I didn’t hear his sharp reply, I noticed I was staring at the concrete floor. Looking up hurriedly, I was surprised to see a somewhat concerned look on his face. His eyes were dilated and intense as he said, “Don’t worry about that now. You haven’t told me your name.”

“Why won’t you tell me?” I sputtered, a grave edginess blended in my voice.

“Still waiting,” he sighed with irritation.

“No, please, you have to tell me who’s doing this,” I anxiously pleaded.

“Fine. I’ll go first. I’m Xavier.”

“Gemma,” I answered with a sigh of frustration.

“Gemma,” he echoed. Very subtly, he smiled.

“Can you tell me what they want with me now?”

As if he was annoyed, he tilted his head towards the ceiling once more. “Everyone’s different. Depends on what you can offer them.”

A sinister feeling rose in my chest. “What you can offer them?”

His sigh filled the silent room, the sound halfway between frustration and contemplation. “How do I explain…?” he asked himself, pausing. “Well, what is it that you do, exactly?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do I do’?” None of this made sense.

“You know what I mean.”

“No,” I hurriedly reassured him. “I honestly don’t know. Please, what do they want with me?”

Lifting an eyebrow, his eyes studied me with disbelief obvious on his face. “Are you serious?”

Unable to answer, I nodded.

“There isn’t anything you can do others can’t, Gemma?” His voice was calm, but his question caught me severely off guard.

Oh, my goodness… Bubbling up inside my eyes, tears pressed at the back of my eyelids, itching for an escape. With my eyes shut painfully tight, I repeated to myself over and over not to cry.

“But they’ve made a mistake,” I abruptly proclaimed. “I’m completely useless to anyone.”

“I doubt that’s true,” he said. The twin bed creaked slightly under a shift in Xavier’s weight as he sat up. I stared up at him with watery eyes as he brought himself to my side and sat down on the cold concrete beside me.

Once he sat down, I refused to look at him. Something inside me swelled up with an unfamiliar fear, and I knew my face gave away too much.

“I get it now. I understand why they want me,” I confessed. “But they’re wrong. What I do… it’s of no use. I don’t even know what it is.”

Xavier waited a few moments before saying anything. In that time, it allowed me to gather whatever composure I still had. Focusing on staying calm, I breathed in deeply.

“What is it?”

For a moment, I refused to answer. “I’ve never told anyone before. Not even my family.” My heart sank low in my chest at the mention of everything I was stolen from.

Xavier only folded his arms across his chest, stirring the air around us, still waiting.

“I see numbers.”

He kept silent for a moment. “Numbers,” he stated bluntly. “That happens to me all the time in math.”

I turned my head to glower at him tersely. “That was so insensitive.”

Xavier didn’t resist the urge to laugh, and the low rumble of his laugh filled the quiet room. As much as his rude remarks weren’t appreciated, I was grateful he was here. Having company was better than solitude in a small cubicle.

“Sorry, Gemma,” he apologized, turning serious. “But seriously, numbers? You’ve gonna have to be a little more specific.”

“Above everyone’s head,” I heard myself say. “That’s where the numbers always are. It’s three sets of numbers.” I close my eyes, remembering the last time I saw numbers hovering above someone’s head. “Dates. They’re dates.”

“Dates of what?”

I had anticipated this—I knew I had no logical explanation. “That’s just it,” I shrugged. “I honestly don’t know—I can’t think of anything.”

“Well, what happens when the day comes?” I gave him a puzzled expression, and he quickly clarified, “Like what if my numbers were today’s date. What happens?”

At his words, a sharp pain plummets into my stomach, igniting memories within my mind. “I don’t know,” I answered truthfully.

“Well, what do my numbers say?”

Before I could stop myself, I gasped loudly and wrench my head towards Xavier’s expectant gaze. For a moment, he only remained motionless as my incredulous eyes fumbled over the air that floated over his head, exacting where three sets of numbers should have hung.

“I can’t believe I didn’t notice that…” I trailed off, hearing my voice drop to a whisper.

I waited to see if perhaps they were late, or simply hard to see. Nonetheless, after a few moments, I abandoned the air above his head and moved to his eyes.

Harper’s gaze held the slightest hint of amusement, like this was all enjoyable for him.

“You don’t look so good. What happened?”

“You don’t have any numbers.”

“Is that bad?” He ran a hand through his hair, as if searching for the missing numbers.

Once again, I didn’t know how to answer, so I simply shrugged. “I guess not. I… don’t know what it means, exactly.” I hesitated before I added, “You’re the only one I’ve seen without them.”

He smiled smugly. “So that makes me special, huh?”

I ignored him, too many thoughts played in my head. “That doesn’t make any sense. I see random strangers on the street… they all have them.” Once more, I search for the absent numbers. “But there’s nothing.”

“Maybe those drugs they gave you just hampered your ability,” Xavier suggested.

“My ability?” I sputtered. “It’s more of a curse. I don’t even know what to do with it. It’s useless.”

“You probably just don’t know what to do with it yet. You said it’s been there forever?”

I nodded.

“Oh,” he said disappointedly. “Then in that case—seeing as you’ve had fifteen years—I doubt you’re going to figure it out any time soon.”

All over again, his eyes held that same amused glint. “So what exactly is your ability? Sensitivity?”

“Not quite,” he laughed.
“Mine’s a little more…” He searched for the right word. “Complex than seeing numbers.”

“So what is it?”

“You’re awfully inquisitive, you know that, right?” His words may have been lighthearted, but his tone was nothing short of hostile.

“Well… why can’t you tell me?”

“I hear thoughts, alright?” he announced indignantly.

“Like Edward?”

Without missing a beat, Xavier turned his vexed eyes on me, staring me down with incredulity. “I cannot believe you just asked me that.”

I resisted the urge to laugh and quickly whispered an apology. “You can’t possibly read thoughts.”

“And you can’t possibly see invisible numbers above people heads,” he abruptly retorted.

“Okay, fine.” He had a point, although I was still hesitant to believe him. Quickly, I searched for the most absurd thing I could possibly think of—something that would be impossible to guess without access into my thoughts. “What am I thinking right now, then?”

“Pancakes,” he proclaimed proudly and without hesitation. “Seriously? That was the best you could do?”

Oh, my goodness. Swiftly, I dismissed the thought from my mind. If he gathered my thoughts of pancakes so quickly, he must have heard everything before.

With a surge of panic, I released any thoughts I didn’t want made available.

“I can still hear you, you know. Thinking about not thinking of something technically qualifies as thinking about it.” He gently tapped his temple with his index finger. “That little conversation you just had with yourself is all right here.”

“So you’ve been eavesdropping on me this whole time?” I asked, completely speechless.

He shrugged; the slightest smile surfacing. “You compared me to a vampire. I think we’re even.”

“Okay, fine. You read thoughts,” I acknowledged, more to myself than him. “Anything else? Can you morph into a spider or something?”

He ignored my gratuitous question, and replied with, “I can put thoughts in your head too—it’s kinda like reading them—only I choose what you think about.” He playfully lifted an eyebrow. “Want me to show you?”

“Will I know you’re putting them there?” I was slightly intrigued, but it sounded very invading to me.

“No. That’s what’s so great about it.”

Hesitantly, I nodded. “Okay.”

Harper nodded briefly and then stared into my eyes intensely, significantly concentrating on something, his face revealing nothing.

After a few moments, I was about to ask if something was wrong, but the words became lodged in my throat, making it impossible for me to verbalize anything. Suddenly frightened, I fidgeted with the features of my face, trying to blink my eyes, move my arms, cry for help, but I remained motionless.

I was unable to think clearly. Chaos seemed to circle my mind like a carousel. Then I unexpectedly stopped breathing. Suddenly, I became unable to breathe, unable to inhale oxygen. I envisioned myself gasping for air, but I remained unmoving while I suffocated.

The canvas in front of my eyes began to flutter open and closed, slowly feeling myself loose consciousness.

Without warning, Xavier detached his gaze from mine and oxygen filled my lung as if it had never been taken from me.

Gasping uncontrollably for air, my mind gradually collected its normal feel, my eyes little by little perceiving my surroundings.

I stopped breathing.

Quickly turning my gaze to Harper, I saw him enduring this situation completely leisurely, an unconcerned expression plastered to his face.

“What was that?” I demanded, my voice still trembling from shock. “I thought you were just going to… I was about to…” I was going to stop breathing.

“I made you think you wanted to stop breathing,” Xavier explained.

“Are you insane? You could have killed me!”

“That’s not true. Well, I could have killed you, had I wanted to. But I stopped, and you’re fine.” He smiled slightly, as if this was in any way amusing.

“How could you possibly have done that? I thought I was going to stop breathing.”

“If you suddenly think you want to killing yourself, your body will act accordingly. It’s that simple.”

My mind reeled from the bizarre explanation and ached from the detrimental demonstration. “How did you know I would stop?”

“You didn’t stop,” he contended. “I did. I made you stop breathing; I caused you to begin breathing again.” He shrugged. “You had no hand in that. I could have killed you.”

Unexpectedly, I came to a realization that I never thought would have occurred to me. “Is that what you meant? When you said they use you for things?” I asked slowly, giving myself time to rethink. “You… kill people for them?”

“It’s not like I do it intentionally,” he snapped crossly, his eyes slicing into mine. “Look, it’s not exactly something I can explain.”

Just then, footsteps approached our holding area. Loud, clamorous footsteps that became increasingly louder as they advanced.

Before turning around, I glanced up at Xavier’s face. For once, his face showed overt indication of panic. Muttering something under his breath, he stood up and motioned for me to do the same.

“What’s wrong?” I asked fearfully as I followed him to the farthest wall away from the door. Although his words were brusque, he sounded a little uncertain, so I did as he directed.

Xavier hastily scanned the room, stopping when his gaze slipped over the cot. “That might work,” he muttered to himself. “Hide under there,” he ordered curtly, pointing impatiently towards the cot.

I began to sputter refusal, but another worried glare from Xavier forced me to crawl under the small cot.

Once under, I felt the springs of the cot probing into my back, scratching into the fabric of my shirt. From the floor, my view was mostly obscured, and I resisted the urge to peek out from under.

“Where’s the new girl?” I heard a male voice ask impatiently. Shortly after another voice, this time a female voice, replied, “That one.”

A few seconds later, I heard the familiar sound of metal against metal, and instantly knew someone was entering the cell. Then the conversation began.

“Where is she, Xavier?” the female began intolerantly. From under the cot, I could only see three sets of feet. Xavier planted himself firmly, never stepping back as he answered, “She not here. You’ve got the wrong room.”

“Well, well, well,” mocked the male as he moved closer to Xavier. “Xavier Layman hiding a newbie? Aren’t you usually the one pointing them out to us?”

Judging by their voices, I guessed they were in their thirties.

“Like I said,” Xavier pointed out roughly, “she’s not here. Go look somewhere else.”

Silence filled the room, tension squeezing into the left over crevasse as I tried to quiet my breathing. Then suddenly, two pairs of feet leapt towards Xavier, bringing him to the ground.

As he was thrown painfully to he ground, I gained view of the two faces that lurked above him.

They were the ones who chased me, I deemed with a surge of panic. And now they’re after me again.

Both of them knelt to the ground, hovering over Xavier who lied in a pile at their feet. The male spoke first. “Where is she, Xavier?”

Why isn’t he getting up?

“She’s not here,” he spat, recoiling from an impact I must have missed. Cradling his shoulder, he rolled over to his side, turning away from me. I realized he was attempting to draw attention away from me.

“That’s it,” the male decided, fishing in his pockets for something. When he pulled his hand out, I saw a dim light flicker across the blade of a hand knife.

In fear of screaming, I cupped a hand around my mouth.

“One last change,” the female warned. “Where is she?”

“She’s not here!” Xavier bellowed from the floor.

With a furious expression, the male captured Xavier’s shoulder with his left hand.

“No, don’t!” With just two words, I shattered my soundless existence.

Trembling under the cot, I heard Xavier mumble something under his breath. His endeavors had been for nothing, and now I had endangered us both.

From above me, a hand raised the cot with effortless ease, vulnerably bearing me to my captors.

Leaving behind Xavier, the male came closer, and I suddenly realized he was reaching for me. But before he could reach me, Xavier came from behind him and slammed him into the wall I was trembling against.

Once against the wall, he struggled against Xavier to no avail. But then the female noticed the situation and retrieved a long vile from her pocket. Pulling off the cap, she thrust it into Xavier’s shoulder blade as a scream escaped my mouth.

Xavier promptly lost control of his body and fell limply to the ground, falling on his back. Screaming in pain, he withered on the ground almost uncontrollably.

What did she do to him?

The male was reaching towards him when his partner quickly demanded, “Don’t. Leave him. She’s all we need.”

Before her sentence was complete, she commenced moving towards me. As Xavier struggled with the pain, she pulled out another vile.

“She’s just a kid!” Xavier cried out, flinching from the pain.

When I felt something sliver into the flesh of my upper arm, I realized I had been staring at Xavier, allowing my kidnappers to inject me with whatever substance began metastasizing through my bloodstream.

Withdrawing from the outstretched hand, I shrunk down to the floor, cradling my shoulder to my chest.

Instantly pain exploded in my mind, ricocheting off each side, causing my eyes to flutter open and closed. The floor suddenly became obscured by dancing black dots.

“Just leave her alone!” I faintly heard Xavier yell.

Unable to resist the abrupt weight of my eyelids, I felt them fall heavily, the canvas in front of my eyes drained black.

Rough and ungentle hands yanked me back to consciousness, only after what seemed like seconds of silence.

“Over here,” commanded a female voice that was suddenly very close to me. Judging by the sound—which was very unclear, my mind still lingering in unconsciousness—she was young, maybe in her twenties, very much unlike the voice of the other woman.

After I was placed on a flat, hard surface, restrictions pinned down my wrist as well as my ankles, detaining all ability to exceed squirming.

“Wake her up.”

Quickly after I felt a needle inserted into my wrist, discomfort swiftly blossomed throughout my arm. Then it expanded towards my shoulders and neck, a minor ache turning into excruciating twinges throughout my body.

I heard myself shriek from the pain, and felt the restraints as they stiffened around my limbs.

“That’s enough,” the woman brusquely ordered of someone whose footsteps became softer as they moved away from me. “Time to wake up, Gemma.”

She swiftly snapped her fingers and I suddenly jolted fully awake. As if I was deprived of air, I commenced hyperventilating, attempting to fill my lungs with as much oxygen as possible.

As my breathing returned to normal, I glanced around my environment, seeing nothing but grey walls at first.

My eyes began adjusting to the dim lighting, and I perceived my surroundings: concrete walls and floors like the ones of my cell, a small wooden door, and several light fixtures dangling ethereally from the low-hanging ceiling.

I glanced down on the table I was resting on, noting its cool temperature and recognizing the grey matter as steel. Beside me stood another steel table, scattered with vials filled with transparent liquid. Tiny needle were distributed across the table, a pair of rubber gloves resting beside them.

Refusing to stare at the needles any longer, I turn to my left, a shadowy figure veiling my view. When her face came into view, bile rose from within my stomach, threatening to pour out of my mouth.

Across from me, she stood dressed in pale scrubs, similar to a nurse, but hers were tattered with holes and discolored with stains of red and black. To me, she appeared to be in her early thirties. Her hair, the color of rubies, fell in tangled curls around her face, highlighting her dark brown eyes that blended in well with the wall behind her. Her delicate face was disordered by huge purple circles below her eyes as a smile rose to her face. Without warning, I began thrashing and kicking, screaming and yelling as loud as I could.

“That’s of no use,” she stated confidently. Her voice held a certain matured tone, and she spoke slowly and with exaggerated clarity. “Those restraints are quite tenacious. Almost as tenacious as you were, even after I sent after you five of my best guards.” The size of the room caused her voice to reverberate off each wall, imprisoning me. “You’ve been quite a challenge to obtain, Miss Amble.”

She knows my name. I fleetingly remembered giving my name to Xavier, but never my last. “You know my name…” At my words, my throat burned as if I had swallowed gasoline. I attempted to cough, but it only worsened the scorch.

She accepted the incoherent statement with a nod. “Of course I know your name, Gemma. I’ve been attempting to capture you for months.” Her voice dripped with tranquility as she continued, “I must admit though, you’ve been the most difficult to acquire. I never imagined—given your ability—you could outrun us so many times.” Crossing the room in two strides, she advanced closer, halting at the table beside me. “But never mind that; you’re here now.”

Shuffling the items on the table, her hand finally landed on a vial filled with red liquid. “I’m sure you’re wondering why it was so vital we find you. As I’m sure Xavier informed you, you are far from normal. You acquire a gift present in no other paranormal being,” she mentioned, flicking the glass with her finger.

“How did you find me?” I gasped painfully from the table before she could continue.

“That was all very unfortunate really,” she explained, still staring at the vial. “What a shame your mother lost control of the steering wheel like that.”

Recollections of the night before saturated my mind, recalling the dirt road my mother and I always had to travel to get to our favorite restaurant. Since we departed, she had complained about a headache and drowsiness, but she insisted on continuing. Within a few minutes, only ten minutes for the restaurant, my mother collapsed, swiftly loosing control of her body. At first, her eyes commenced fluttering open and closed, until they ultimately closed. For ten minutes, I tried to wake her, but it was futile. Then bright lights reflected in the rear-view mirror.

Twirling around hastily, I saw three cars approaching our stalled one. At first, I thought they were help. But I was sorely mistaken, and guns and knives obscured my view as I ran towards the woods opposite of the road.

For a mile, I was able to outrun them, dodging behind trees and the shadows. Then, we approached the city and all hope of escape was lost.

The woman’s voice heaved me from my reminiscences. “She just suddenly couldn’t keep her eyes open, could she? As I recall, she just—collapsed?” A small smile crept onto her face. “Opium tends to do that to its victims.”

“Opium?” Nausea rose within my stomach.

“It’s a very powerful drug,” she clarified. “A very addictive one, I might add. And it’s seeping through your mother’s blood stream at this very moment.”

I felt my eyes widen at her words, hanging on each one she whispered. “You have my mother?”

“I do,” she affirmed. “She’s in a holding area. I assure you, she’s very much alive, just sorely inebriated.”

Sealing my eyelids, I was suddenly aware of the tears materializing. “Why did you have to take my mother? Why not just take me—”

“Your mother was the only thing that ensured your compliance,” she hurriedly bayed, discarding her vial and crossing the few inches that separated us. With her advances, her face became much clearer, the impression of her cadaverous eyes casting shadows over her the gaunt features of her face. “I don’t think you realize what has been done to guarantee your arrival here. I would stop at nothing, and your mother simply completed the hunt.”

“But what could you possibly want with me? I can only see numbers and I don’t even know what they mean…”

“Death, Gemma,” she retorted quickly. “You see dates of death, hanging above everyone’s head. You know the exact day they’re life will end.”

I was temporarily startled by the information, waiting for the knowledge to sink in. “But how could you possibly use that? What good would—?”

“For goodness sake, Gemma—”

“She’s telling the truth,” a somewhat familiar voice said from behind me. Twisting my head, I glimpsed Xavier standing in the doorway. My gaze caught his, and he looked away hastily. “Madeline, she doesn’t know yet.”

Only one thought surfaced in my mind: that liar. That sick, despicable liar.

Madeline glanced back at me with an understanding hint in her eyes. “So it would seem. You, Gemma Amble, can speed up death. Everyone has a day assigned to their death. No one knows when… except you, it would appear. And you possess the ability to tamper with the dates and rearrange them in any order. You can change every number to zero.” A sick smile played at her face. “Do you understand now, Gemma?”

“You want me to… kill people.” Bile rose in the back of my throat as her words slowly aligned in my mind. “You’re completely insane if you think I would—”

“Oh, but I don’t think. I know, Gemma.” Gesturing at Xavier, Madeline outstretched her hand as he came sauntered towards her, placing another vial in her outspread hand. “Do you know what this is?”

Studying the vile carefully, I attempted to read the illegible print on the bottle, but the words were written in some foreign language.

“Madeline, please,” Xavier beseeched somberly, his eyes shifting to me for a fraction of a second. “She’s just a kid.”

She swiftly dismissed his aside. “It’s an antidote to the very substance that is metastasizing through your mother’s bloodstream at this very moment, the very substance that maintains her unconscious state.”

She’s killing my mother. I began kicking and screaming, despite the cords that hampered my ability to surpass squirming. “You sick, vile monster!”

Madeline ignored my outburst, but I saw Xavier flinch as she waved the vile in front of my face. “It’s just a few quick murders, Gemma. Just a simple reshuffling of the dates. And outside those mere death lays your mother’s much needed cure.”

Tears bled through my eyelids, percolating from my face. “And if I don’t, you’ll kill her?”

Madeline nodded. “It must be done, and you, Gemma, are the only one who can do it.”

“Why does it have to be me?”

“Your method for murder is spotless. Your ability allows you to slaughter a whole town without merely touching a single person.” Growing dim, her graze stared at me with harsh brown eyes. “Your ability is blameless from the eyes of an observer. Don’t you see? You’re the only one to accomplish what you can, without the evidence pointing its finger at you.”

“But I couldn’t…killed anyone,” I sputtered.

“Oh, but you can,” Madeline contended, her voice rising. “You see, Gemma, this all began when you were only a child; I can imagine how you forgot. When you turned six, you revealed to your mother that you began seeing numbers above everyone’s head, even her own. Throughout a series of months, you listed off each number of each stranger you saw. Eventually it drove you made; you’re mother became very worried. Consequently, she turned to a doctor, wondering if what you claimed were signs of mental illness. The doctor hastily denied the theory and reported it to us.” She paused, allowing her words to sink in. “As you can imagine, we become infatuated by this bizarre ability and investigated. We knew you were special, but at the time, we had no idea how valuable you could be. For years, we kept an eye on you, waiting for you to reach your full potential.” Tracing my gaze, she continued, “That was when we knew. That’s why you’re so important.”
Imagines of my six-year-old self crying to my mother about alien numbers inundated my mind.
“We thought,” Madeline carried on, “If you were allowed access to the date of someone’s death, what would stop you from changing it?”
Leaving her sentence to waft in the silence, something occurred to me. “What if it doesn’t work? What if I really can’t change it?”

Madeline exchanged quick glances with Xavier. Then she her gaze revisited me as she offered, “That’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

“These things are hurting me,” I abruptly hear myself announce, tugging at the restraints. “Can you loosen them?”
She looked doubtful, slightly piqued. “Very well,” Madeline acquiesced, gesturing towards Xavier. As he began loosening the restraints on my wrists and ankles, Madeline gazed at me with cynical eyes.
With my freed wrist, I smeared at the tears with my fists. When Madeline was convinced I was remaining on the table, she returned to her reserve of vials. At that, I thrust my leg into Xavier’s stomach, jumping off the table.
As he hunched over from the impact, I darted towards the wooden door without another thought.
“Get her!” Madeline’s frantic shrieks softened and within moments, I had crossed the vacant, dark hallway, searching for any kind of escape. Finally, my eyes landed on an open door across from me. Shadows lingered motionlessly through the crack, and I faintly heard the clamors of Madeline approaching.
Heaving open the door, I rushed inside, slamming the door behind me. Although it wasn’t until my gaze fumbled over a bed in the middle of the room that I realized I had found my mother.
Lying on a hospital-like bed, she laid motionless, her eyes closed and her hands at her side. Obtruding from her wrist, a single IV tube ran from her arm to a machine standing beside her bed. The opium.
She wore a white hospital gown, and a sickening color of dark purple was creeping its way to her face, darkening at her neck. My gaze traced the line to the air above her head. I felt my heart cattle as I read today’s date.
“Well, well, well, Gemma,” Madeline bantered pompously, entering the small room with Xavier. “That was quite the little stunt.”
My voice felt like desiccated cotton inside my throat. “Her numbers…”
Madeline traded glances with Xavier, muttering two words: “Kill her.”
Twisting around, I observed her gaze fixed on my mother. Looking startled, Xavier grimaced at Madeline and began muttering refusal.
“I said kill her,” she echoed.
Xavier’s eyes pleaded, but Madeline repeated her order. Reaching behind him, Xavier retrieved a dagger from his back pocket. My stomach wounded up in knots as he advanced closer to the bed. “No, Xavier, please—”
Fear overtook my body and I staggered towards him, only to be caught by Madeline, her fingertips pressing into my forearm. “It must be done.”

Screams escape my mouth as Xavier crossed the room, the knife raised above his head. More sputters of implores flew from my mouth as he gored the knife in my mother’s chest.

Oxygen evaporated from my body as my mother’s lifeless body was thrown into severe shock, her chest surging upwards then back down in the same second. Blood seeped from her skin and commenced metastasizing through her clothing.

Only the handle of the knife was visible; the rest of the dagger was prodded into her chest. I transiently remembered sinking to my knees.
Staring up at the motionless body of my own mother, I alternated between absorbing her dead body and her killer settling into the background, attempting to avoid my desolated eyes.

“I’m sorry, Gemma,” Xavier grieved, silently removing himself from my mother’s bed. “It had to be done.”

Surfacing from behind me, Madeline’s feet eclipsed the pattern of the floor I began scrutinizing, my mind slowly misplacing its grip on reality.

“Now, Gemma. Would you like to rethink your decision?”

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