I thought of the decade he’d been alone with no one to speak to, to touch, to hold.
And it was no longer a choice to stay or to go.
My body relaxed in his comforting cocoon. Exhaustion crept over me, gleefully sucking me into darkness now that I’d finally stopped fighting. Clouds entered my mind, foggy delirium from the past nine days of doing my best to keep him alive, all while surviving the madness of this forgotten house, popping like iridescent bubbles.
“I’ll stay.” I yawned. “I’ll grant whatever happiness I can.”
He didn’t reply.
His breathing leveled with sleep, soft and even. His arms loosened around me.
I stupidly snuggled closer.
I felt safe.
For one night only, we were friends who fell into happy dreams together.
COMING BACK TO LIFE had a strange texture.
Awareness came over me gradually. The return of sight as I blinked and looked around the dawn-glowing library. A chair that looked big enough to be a throne pushed against the many shelves housing fictional classics and non-fictional manuals. Blankets strewn on the thick carpet, creating mayhem in orderly perfection.
The room was familiar.
The scent of leather and pages not jarring or foreign. I recognized it. Ghosts flittered in my mind’s eye. Girls and boys scurrying in the dark to borrow books. A man standing guard at all times with his whip.
I tried to focus on those ghosts, only for them to dissolve into dust.
I blinked again, the visions fading, leaving only a familiar room curtained with secrets.
Movement came next, the urge to sit up sending shockwaves of pain, bruises, and bone-deep agony through every part of me.
I sat upright slowly, swaying as my nervous system assessed why my body hurt so much. I scanned the splint bracing my arm, the blackened bruises along my legs, the bandage around my shin, the countless scrapes and cuts on my chest.
What the hell happened to me?
My heart suddenly raced, remembering things my mind refused to share. Panic hissed in my blood. Something about this room. This house. This place.
Raising my good arm, I ran fingers through my long hair, finding it combed and tended instead of the usual knotty mess. Come to think of it, my body was clean—despite the obvious trauma it’d been through.
Who had looked after me?
There’s no one here.
My mind unlocked that fact as certainty. Eleven years. Just me.
Unfortunately, with that memory came a cascade of sickness and images.
I choked and buckled over my knees, tumbling into chaos.
The fractures inside me were widening, sucking giant pieces of me, erasing all my valuable parts, my worthy, positive, and honorable parts, leaving me with gaping holes of excrement.
I needed my family.
I needed their light to keep me from the dark.
I didn’t care that it was late afternoon. I didn’t worry that it’d been weeks since I’d said goodbye and had no clue how to find them.
I couldn’t stay in this place for another moment.
I’d done what I needed. I’d memorized the files Storymaker had on us. I’d burned them to ash so no one could follow, and I’d buried the guests who would never hurt another person.
I’d waited as long as I could to see if anyone would arrive. If any of Storymaker’s contacts would investigate why Fables had gone so quiet.
But no one had ventured here in over a month.
I’d been patient. I’d been wise.
But now? Now, I was being eaten alive by this monstrous house, and I had to go.
Packing a bag with some food and water, I stepped out of Fables for the last time.
And, in some serendipitous, ironic, cruel-as-fuck timing, three men smiled from the front garden.
A man with a groomed white beard and expensive suit glittered in the sunlight, flanked by two fierce guards, their hands resting on the holsters of their guns.
“Well, well.” The man tipped his head. “And just who the fuck do we have here?”
I rocked with my fingers digging into my skull.
I didn’t want to see this. Didn’t want to remem—
I was weak.
I dropped my bag and bolted back into Fables with its bleached carpets, disinfected air, and spotless bedrooms hiding all signs of a massacre.
A shot rang out as one of the guards fired at me. All concepts of tackling the new guest and killing him like I’d killed Storymaker fled.
I’d lived with demons for too long not to recognize one.
Gasping, I shoved away the memory, recalling the discipline required to shut the doors and turn the keys, reinforcing the walls between my past and present.
I wasn’t strong enough.
I fell back into nightmares.
The interrogation lasted days.
I lost track of time. I lost too much blood. They broke my bones, my mind, my hope. I lived in a never-ending merry-go-round of questions, abuse, and torment.
The silver lining in being tortured was my sanity finally snapped.
I drifted into a place they couldn’t reach.