“A Wheel that turns according to a Law.
The Cause-Effect and the Compensation.
The Beginning of a New Tide.
The Awakening of a New Storm.”
- The Prophet of Truth
Sarah took a deep breath.
Why exactly am I sitting here…? Oh! Yeah … The samples that I had to leave behind last week. That’s right. Work, Sarah! And work equals money. And money can’t be an issue from now on. Not to mention the fact that you definitely have to be extra careful as to not make any mistakes that might lead you to lose your job. Selena would never forgive me! I would never forgive me!
“Sarah! Are you listening to me?”
Sarah forced a smile and took the glass of water to her lips, gently seeping it as she stalled for some extra seconds to rearrange her own thoughts. Those wore all techniques she’d learned through numerous lunches and dinners meetings, while trying to land sponsors for her research projects, since feminine charm wasn’t a weapon she possessed. With John, on the other hand, a light smile and a lower gaze were more than enough, which made her feel kind of sorry for his petty, simple mind.
Young, rich and the son of some prominent congressman, John Donovan was the dream guy of almost every single woman her age. Besides he was rather good looking, with golden-brown hair and eyes the color of honey. Of course, she had to admit, he was a master at taking advantage of all his plus points, and his infallible charm made sure he was followed by a wave of sighs and girly whispers every time he ventured out of his lab.
If only he really felt something for me, besides the desire of having me on all fours on his bed ..!
Sometimes her gift could be really inconvenient, but Sarah had long decided that she’d rather know the truth of what other’s thought than being deceived by false intentions, as it had happened in the past.
“Of course I am, John. I feel really reassured knowing that you’ll be taking care of my experiments. I’ll be forever in your debt,” she told him, knowing she probably hadn’t answered his question, but John didn’t seem to mind, smiling confident at her implied compliment.
“Concerning that matter, there’s no need to worry. What are friends for? We’ve know each other what? More than ten years? Besides, as to be expected, the rigor with which you selected your samples is exemplar, allowing the gathering of completely reliable results. I’m truly convinced that this time we’ll get some positive data for sure. Oh, and on that account, the monthly meeting was scheduled for next Monday. You’ll be attending, right?”
Sarah sighed. She was certain that even someone deaf and blind could easily notice how fake his worried expression truly was.
Adequate and well trained words, nothing else …
“I hope so. My bereavement leave ends on Friday.”
“Good. I’m glad to know that your life is slowly getting back to normal,” he told her with an absolutely seductive smile, especially created to leave hearts throbbing everywhere. “Sarah. Why don’t you take this moment of deep changes to really straighten up your life? This isn’t the first time we talk about this and my offer still stands. We could start a project, just the two of us, instead of hidding in the shadow of some big University name. You know we wouldn’t lack the financing. Wouldn’t you like to be your own boss for a change? We could even hire a team of lab techs, if needed be.”
Sarah played absent-mindedly with the pees on her plate. Contrary to his words his feelings talked about lust, anxiety, the desire of being victorious, the need to conquer and of a ridiculous high self-esteem.
Money, right. No one doubts you have that to spare, by the way you’re always announcing it wherever you go. Still, why me? With so many women around, wanting for your affections! I know what you want and that you’d probably give me a royal kick in the butt once you’ve had it. Rejections must be really hard to swallow, for someone who’s used to having everything he wants.
“Well … No matter how tempting having a team of my own may sound, right now I think that what I need the most is stability. And the place where we work offers exactly that. Without complications or extra worries. All I have to do is do my job like always. Maybe later, who knows?” she told him as delicately as possible while wondering what stopped her from saying exactly what she thought. And yet, something in John’s prideful posture always seemed to intimidate her, and the clearly displeased expression that took over his normally friendly facade gave a new weight to that sensation.
“Stability?! But that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to offer you, not only financially speaking but also at a more personal level! Sarah! Stay with me and I assure you, you’ll never want for anything!”
Yeah, right ...
A shiver ran down her spine leaving her freezing inside. Even though Sarah was certain that that last thought had belonged to her, suddenly another presence had invaded her mind, flooding her with intense, foreign feelings. Despise, disdain, anger and a hint of hate. The violence contained behind those emotions made her clench her fists to stop them from trembling. And, beyond all that, an absurd sense of possession mixed with confusion and incomprehension. The whirlpool of emotions that originated from there forced her to immediately raise all the mental defenses she’d learned to create over the years. But, even after pulling away from that source of uncontained emotions, the feeling that there was an intruder somewhere in her mind remained, almost as an unpleasant weight, and she discretely looked around, searching for the origin of that clearly disturbed mind.
She searched the faces surrounding her, some relatively well known since, like herself, they were usual costumers. It was only when she returned to John’s annoyed expression at her clear distraction that she realized she’d been searching for a pair of strangely colorless glowing eyes.
The obvious silence that answered her mental question brought her back to reality.
“John … We’ve already discussed that matter, more than once. Right now I’m not interested in engaging in any kind of romantic relationship,” she clearly told him as gently as possible. The frown on John’s forehead told her she hadn’t been successful in her attempt to appease him, and Sarah found herself taking a deep breath in search of patience to deal with what would surely follow.
“Not interested! Right! I’m really eager to see which judge will grant a child’s custody to a single woman that, to top it off, has problems with simply being touched by other people.”
“I don’t have problems with being touched!” She was only aware of the outrage that had taken over her after the words had left her lips. And yet, no matter how much she regretted having answered without thinking, which of course had just confirmed his accusation, now it was too late. She’d reacted just as he’d expected, and for that reason she forced herself to calm down and retreat to the compartment of her mind occupied by the cold, rational scientist she usually was. She wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of seeing her troubled or emotionally unstable … which lately wasn’t all that hard to happen, with the hell her week had been and all. “Besides, how did you know about the custody dispute? I only learned about it yesterday!” she demanded, unable to mask her tone of accusation, and John smiled, apparently proud of knowing more about matters concerning her family than she did.
“I know people, Sarah. You know how these things work. I know a lot of people. Including the lawyer that your aunt and uncle hired to represent them,” he answered casually as if he were talking about the weather. “I can also as easily introduce myself to the judge that will be taking care of your case.”
Sarah felt anger burn her stomach and her face heated violently.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked in a tense voice and John leaned slightly towards her, resting his chin on his hand as he watched her intently.
“That I can help you.”
“Just think about it like this. The solution to this entire problem depends only of you, my dear. You can’t deny that, let’s say for example, the existence of a fiancé would reassure any judge in a case like yours. Especially if that fiancé is independently rich and has some friends in high places. I’m sure that no one would even remember to mention traumatic past experiences or psychiatric hospitalizations, or even years of therapy.”
Sarah had to force herself to breathe before she was sure she could remain apparently calm, sitting on her chair, like any mature, confident woman would do. Her nails, however, were stabbing the palms of her hands and her heart hammered violently against her chest. Above all she focused in maintaining her mental defenses up. It was exactly in moments like those that they tended to fail her, and being suddenly exposed to the emotions of everyone in that restaurant was the last thing she needed right now.
“Why me? I don’t understand … What is it about me that won’t allow you to just leave me be?” she found herself asking in a whisper that contained as much of the despair that threatened to choke her, as of the anger that impelled her to do something crazy. Like clawing the perfect face staring at her with an obnoxious smile, for example. “You can have any woman you want!”
“That’s my question, isn’t it? I’ve been trying to get close to you for the last five years. I’ve made use of all possible means and strategies. Roses, chocolates, romance, initiative, seduction, even just having some fun. I’ve offered you money and moral support. I even went along with the whole let’s-take-it-slow thing and tried to start with just being friends, listening to your problems, knowing your family and so on. You tell me! What makes you think you’re so special that you can’t spend a few pleasant moments in the company of a rich, well presented man?”
Oh, this being honest thing is just too much … He is even more disgusting than he looked, when he was still pretending to be nice!
A light feeling of amusement intruded in her mind, leaving her apprehensive again. And yet the hostility was still there. It was almost as if she’d just managed to amuse a deadly predatory animal.
“Because it just didn’t happen, John.”
“Not with me, and not with anyone else, Sarah! You think I don’t know?” he went on with a sigh, seeming calmer. “I know everything about you, Sarah! Everything!! And it’s for your own good that I’m doing this. It’s past time you chose what’s more important to you and just leave everything else behind. It’s past time you just forget all those traumas and become the hot, passionate woman I know you’re supposed to be … that I know that you are.” You know nothing about me! Nothing at all! The anger burning inside her made her lower her fork. She knew that now she’d never be able to finish her meal. “Choose me, Sarah, and a life with no more worrying, where you’ll have everything you want, you and your sister, of course. Just think carefully about my offer!”
“I think we have nothing else to discuss!” Sarah stood up before he could say another word and grabbed her coat from the back of her chair, swiftly putting it on. “Besides I promised Selena I’d go and see her tonight. I can’t stay any longer,” she added, certain he wouldn’t stop her from leaving for fear of creating a compromising situation that could somehow tarnish his reputation, and John didn’t disappoint her when he took a deep breath and leaned back on his chair.
“I understand. Do as you please. In any case, I imagine you’ll have a lot to think about. I’ll be waiting for an answer. I’ll give you until the weekend, Sarah. After that it will be too late.”
“Thank you for dinner.”
Sarah turned to leave, ignoring the threatening tone of his last words. Her footsteps were like thunder as she crossed the restaurant in a mix of anger and nervousness. Only when the cold air of the night touched her scalding face was she able to take a deep breath and calm down.
Her problems seemed to be increasing at a hallucinating rhythm. And after the meeting with her lawyer that afternoon, John’s words didn’t sound as crazy as she’d like them to be.
A cold wind made her shiver, waking her from her thoughts, leaving her surprisingly alert and aware that she was standing all alone, in the middle of a deserted street. The streetlamp that should be illuminating the sidewalk was off, the lamp probably burned out, and there wasn’t a single soul in sight. From behind her she could still hear the warm voices of the people inside the restaurant, but the sound seemed somewhat farther away than it should be, as if there were miles between her and the safety implicit in the company of other Human Beings. And in any case going back was out of the question, no matter how strong the ominous feeling knotting her stomach was.
In hurried steps she almost ran to her car, parked on the other side of the road, while nervously searching for the car keys inside her handbag.
There was something evil in the air. As if hungry eyes were following her every move, prepared to attack at any instant. The sensation that she was being hunted by a ferocious, hungry animal left her shaky inside, and no matter how hard she tried to rationalize that ridiculous idea, the truth was that her analytic mind seemed unable to overpower the urgency vibrating through all the cells in her body.
A sigh of relief left her lips when she finally found the keys, and in the next instant she was sitting in front of the steering wheel, the key in the ignition. She allowed herself to slow down for a moment and look around, towards the dark, deserted street, while mentally reproaching her own attitude.
More psychotic every day. Instead of getting better I only get worse.
She had just concluded that it had all been in her mind, something probably brought upon by her stressful talk with John, when she noticed in though her rear mirror a strange shadow standing in the middle of the road.
It looked like a man dressed in a long, dark, rain coat, and by the way he stood, with his head slightly bent forward, the angular collar pulled up, it was impossible to see his face.
Her heart jumped when she saw him move, one step, and then another, as he walked towards her car, and her fingers instinctively curled around the steering wheel, as if grabbing something material between her hands could help her make sure that what she saw was real. Her skeptical mind kept insisting that she was seeing danger where there was none and that, contrary to what she thought, that man was probably walking towards the restaurant, and not necessarily towards her. For a brief instant she thought she saw a pair of bright red eyes and that ridiculous idea only made her doubt herself even more.
Let’s get out of here, she decided with a sigh. It was the most obvious and intelligent solution, solving the internal conflict in her brain; if only her hands would obey her and release the steering wheel to turn the key.
An irrational terror threatened to take over, stealing her breath away and leaving her trembling and gasping for air. Even so her body remained in a complete state of alert, the instinct to run away making her sweat, as her hands refused to obey, and the dark shadow kept getting closer.
The sudden sound of the car door closing made her jump, her heart beating against her throat, but at least it had been able to break the immobilization spell that seemed to have been cast over her.
Suddenly there was someone else sitting beside her, in the passenger’s seat, and it took a few seconds until her terrified mind was able to process that information.
“What are you waiting for? Let’s go! Quickly!”
The low voice and the contained expression of his face weren’t able to hide the urgency implied in that command and Sarah found herself obeying him without a second thought.
The motor roared immediately, and seconds after the restaurant and the strange shadow had been left behind, slowly growing smaller in her rear mirror.
Sarah peered at him through the corner of her eye, fearing that if she openly looked at him he’d simply disappear, and once more did as she was told.
She could hardly believe he was real, especially since she’d just been thinking about him a few minutes ago. But there he was. Sitting right beside her. The same serious, severe expression … The same glowing eyes … And that fierce animosity, that even with her mental defenses up, still managed to seep in, painfully pounding her brain. An intense hate. A promise of cruel, bloody violence.
Her sweaty, shaky hands firmly grabbed the steering wheel in search of some support, and her rational mind finally managed to take over her thoughts.
How had she allowed some stranger to just kidnap her like that? And why was she obeying him without question?
Forcing herself to swallow the invisible knot tied around her throat she tried hard to sound calm and in control.
“If you needed me to take you somewhere, all you you had to do was ask. Maybe I can help you,” she carefully suggested. No one could guarantee that he hadn’t a weapon hidden somewhere, inside his black leather jacket. Besides, that couldn’t just have been a coincidence. Which meant he’d followed her to the restaurant. Maybe he’d been following her the entire day! The idea alone was enough to make her feel sick.
“Sarah.” Once more, her name in that low, warm voice was enough to shatter her thoughts. With her heart beating painfully against her chest she saw him turn back, intently searching the road behind them, as if expecting someone to follow them. “You have to trust me. You’re not safe!” he declared and turned to the front again. “Next one turn left.”
With shaky hands Sarah obeyed once again, seeping some air through clenched teeth, since she’d almost forgotten to breathe.
“What do you mean?” Her own broken voice made her nervously bite down on her lip. Weren’t there any police stations anywhere near? Maybe she’d be able to slow down enough to ask for help!
“Why didn’t you leave as soon as you saw him?” The anger in his voice transformed that simple question in an authentic accusation and Sarah couldn’t help squeeze the steering wheel even harder, trying to hide just how much she was shaking.
As she’d initially suspected he had to be some poor insane man, which justified the chaotic amount of contradictory emotions that persistently invaded her mental defenses. Maybe it had been a result of his captivity and all the torture he’d been subjected to … Or maybe he’d been chosen as a guinea pig exactly because he was mentally unstable, which would certainly make his testimony hard to believe, should he ever escape and decide to press charges. No matter the case, the man sitting beside her was, without the shadow of a doubt, clearly dangerous, and for the second time in the last twenty-four hours, her life was completely in his hands.
“When I saw him?! You mean the man, in the middle of the street?”
“Turn second right.”
She obeyed again and the small hope she’d kept, that they’d end up finding someone that could help her, started to fade, as the roads he was leading her to took them farther and farther away from the city center.
The buildings in that area were clearly poor and degraded. Sure there were more people in the streets, but instead of stopping the car to ask for help, Sarah had the urge to lock the doors and step on the gas pedal.
The lack of an answer to her question told her that he was in no mood to talk, which left her even more nervous.
“Alexis,” she purposely used his name trying to somehow bring him back to reality. “No one’s following us. I’m sure we’re relatively safe now. How about pulling over for a second so we can get some rest?” she suggested in her most calm, neutral tone and warily watched him from the corner of her eye. She’d expected confusion, or even anger at her attempt to stop the car, but he remained in that state of contained alert, watching the road in front of them and turning back ever so often.
“Not being able to see them doesn’t mean they’re not there,” he simply told her and glued his index finger to the windshield, pointing towards a bright sign. “There. That’s where we’ll stop.”
Fearing a more violent reaction, Sarah followed his indication.
They’d been jumping from shady street to shady street for the last half an hour, and even there, right on the other side of the road, five working girls leaned patiently against a wall, waiting for their hourly costumer. She had no doubt about the kind of place he was taking her to. The flashing, bright sign by the side of the road read ‘Sunnyside Motel’, even though some of the white lamps composing the name were clearly dead.
Her stomach knotted as she imagined that crazy man’s intentions in taking her to a place like that. On the other hand, stopping there, where there would probably be other people she could go to for help, was way better than being forced to stop in the middle of nowhere.
Sarah slowed down as she turned towards an open parking lot. As to be expected the exterior appearance of the motel was clearly lacking, giving out the feeling of one of those places that are only used for a few hours at a time. She could hardly imagine anyone wanting to spend an entire night in that place.
The complex was a single U structure, the walls painted in sunny-yellow, only high enough for one floor, where small doors and windows opened directly to the parking lot.
Since her kidnapper didn’t give her any further instructions, Sarah chose to stop the car right in front of the glass door she guessed led to some kind of Reception; the orange light coming from the inside spilling over the cement sidewalk.
She hadn’t even turned off the engine and Alexis was already out of the car, and in the next instant her door was opened, startling her.
A huge hand held her by a wrist and he pulled her out of the car without so much giving her time do take the key off the ignition, or close the door behind her.
Dreading what would follow, she anxiously waited for the nauseating feeling that took over her every time someone touched her directly, but nothing happened. Well, she was probably just too nervous, and right then there were much more important problems occupying her mind. Surely there was no space for the manifestation of silly fears like that. In compensation, she saw herself being practically dragged, having to almost run to keep up with his wide steps. Seen from behind his broad shoulders looked more like a dark, intimidating wall. Like she recalled from the previous night, his dark hair was carefully tied at the back of his head, in a thick, silky pony-tail that gently swung with his every step.
A soft tingly sound and the following orange light that left her half-blinded told her that they’d reached the Reception, and the long fingers surrounding her wrist finally released her.
His strong shout made her cringe and Sarah quickly looked around, searching for a phone, or anything she could somehow use as a weapon.
She was standing in the middle of a small, poorly furnished room. The counter that took over most of the space was wide and made of hard-looking wood, almost as if, beyond its obvious purpose, it was also meant to keep a safe distance between those who worked there and those who came in through the door. There were several stains and even some pieces missing from its darkened surface, where a plastic ball-pen rested, tied down by a brownish piece of cord.
The sound of slow, unworried footsteps immediately captured her attention, and a middle aged man lazily appeared, coming from a small door on the other side of the counter.
“Well, rats bite me! Look who’s decided to show up!” he tranquilly observed, scratching the red-haired beard that covered his angular chin, perfectly matching his bushy mustache. He wore a red and white checked shirt and, even though he was shorter than Alexis, he looked much stronger; one of those men that clearly spent a large amount of time in gyms when he was younger. Age, however, had started to show on his face, mainly in the corner of his bright blue eyes that still kept their sharp glow.
“I’m truly sorry.”
“You may as well be, boy! Last time it took me almost a month to put everything back in working order! And don’t think for a second I’ll feel sorry for you when time comes to get my hands on your credit card number!”
“How many inside?” Alexis went on, clearly ignoring the man’s complaints, and Havoc took a deep breath when he saw him peering outside, searching the night with his strange bright eyes.
“None. It’s too early for the usual costumers,” he replied and his blue eyes fell on Sarah, as if he’d just seen her.
“Then you may as well turn on the ‘no vacancies’ sign for the night. You know the drill. Grab your shotgun and lock yourself in the basement until morning,” he commanded, marching to the door, and Havoc obeyed him immediately, releasing the heavy-looking shotgun he’d apparently been hiding under the counter. Sarah couldn’t help take a step back when he loaded it with obviously experienced hands.
“Hey, kid! What about the little lady? Shouldn’t she accompany me? I promise I’ll safely return her home as soon as morning comes.”
Although that man was clearly rude and unrefined he sounded honestly worried about her safety. And, even though he was overall intimidating, especially now, holding that evil-looking shotgun as if it were his best-friend, she’d much rather stay with him than go with the mad, violent man that had practically kidnapped her. In a last ray of hope Sarah wished he’d noticed the critical situation she’d unwillingly been dragged into, and that he’d use his weapon to persuade Alexis to let her stay in the basement with him.
The arm that crossed over her chest and the hand that covered her left shoulder completely overpowered her, forcing her to give up on any possible ideas of escape. Although he touched her carefully she could clearly feel the enormous self-control he was exercising in order not to crush her bones; the constant instability of his mind even scarier than her imaginative thoughts of what he might want to do with her.
“She stays with me!” were his only words, and apparently Havoc decided that it was best not to oppose him.
Once again he dragged her back outside. With regret she remembered her handbag, left on the backseat of the car, leaving her with no cell phone, no money and no documents. With a hint of sarcasm she couldn’t deny that she’d most likely be found dead the next day, her body dumped on some roadside. Sadly enough the only person she knew that would truly cry for her was Selena. And it was the knowledge of how terrible a blow her death would be on her sister that stopped her from giving up hope all together.
Alexis opened the door to one of the small rooms and pushed her inside before he even turned on the lights. Sarah stepped back, wanting to keep a safe distance from him, and once more tried to quickly take on her surroundings.
A double bed covered by an old, worn, beige blanket. A television that, by the looks of it, she doubted it was even in color. A tall lamp that could be used as a defense weapon. The same could be said of the smaller one on the night-stand, or at least that’s what she thought, before she noticed that it had been bolted to the bedside table. An old dresser and a chair.
Alexis peered out of the window, lightly pulling the small curtains aside.
He really believes someone is following us, Sarah realized, feeling sorry for him. At least until his attention drifted away from the window and he turned to her in those huge, intimidating footsteps.
Sarah stepped back, suddenly panicking, and her back hit the bathroom door in just three steps. To her relief he also stopped, seeming suddenly aware of the fear he invoked, and her heavy breath filled the silence that fell around them.
“You have nothing to fear, Sarah,” he declared and the softness of his voice surprised her. So much pain … so much bitterness … “I swear I will protect you. But I need you to listen carefully.” Sarah nodded urgently, wishing to look cooperative if that would keep him away from her. ”I want you to hide in there,” he told her pointing the door in her back. “And stay there, very quiet. You’re only to come out when I say so. No matter what happens, or whatever you hear, you’re not to come out before that, understand?”
Sarah nodded again and her hand stumbled nervously as she blindly searched for the door handle. She almost fell inside the bathroom when the door suddenly opened, but contrary to what she’d expected, Alexis didn’t take a single step to close the distance between them.
“What about you?” she asked, still unsure, and he lightly tilted his head as if he were hearing something faraway.
“I’ll be right here. You don’t have to worry.”
Sarah clenched her fists hard, searching for courage where there was none and, still hesitant, fearing he might try to reach her in the last second, closed the door, immediately locking it. Sure she instinctively knew that he was probably able to break it down should he choose to. But the existence of that physical barrier between them allowed her to take a deep breath, and to release some of the nervous tension that had seeped into her muscles since the moment that stranger had invaded her car.