Chapter 1: Preface
The electric lights hummed overhead, strips of illumination more blue than white. Every so often one would stutter and blink out for a moment. Then the humming would continue. It was the only sound in the otherwise silent hospital and as she lay awake, it was slowly driving her insane.
Lying in the narrow hospital bed, Casey watched the lights flicker with dull, disinterested eyes. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been there, what time it was, what day it was for that matter. She drifted through a timeless void, numb to everything around her. She’d been that way since she arrived.
A week had passed. A week of no sleep, hospital food and nurses asking ‘concerned’ questions. She was exhausted but every time her eyes slipped shut, even if it was just for a second, she found herself staring into his eyes. It was better just to stay awake. Stay quiet, stay alert. She ignored anyone who came in. The doctors, the police… Mr Benoit had come to see her and Marcia’s parents. Those visits were the worst. They made polite enquiries about her health but Casey could see in their eyes what they were asking themselves silently. Why her? Why had their daughters died? Why had she lived while they didn’t?
Casey wiped her eyes clear of tears she hadn’t realised she’d been shedding and swung her legs out of bed. One was wrapped in bandages and the movement caused a stab of pain that threatened to force her mind back to the days before.
Teeth on flesh.
Wild animal eyes.
The voice that howled in the dark.
She forced herself out of bed and hobbled over to the window. There was a small stand with a jug of water and a cup. She balanced awkwardly against the glass and poured herself some, before turning her gaze outside. It was dark outside, late night or early morning. Philadelphia was spread out beneath her. The parking lot of the ugly grey building she stood in was quiet. Nearby was a sign advertising the Philadelphia zoo, just five minutes away. She shuddered, wishing they’d sent her somewhere else.
A flash of movement caught her attention, something large darting across the parking lot on all fours. It was gone as quick as she saw it and she couldn’t be entirely sure it was really there but the hunched over posture unsettled her. It was too similar to how… he had moved.
Casey closed her eyes and rested her face against the glass. She was too close and she knew he was still out there. She didn’t fear for her own life, he had already left her and she hadn’t held much value in her existence since she was young. But just the thought of him, those protruding veins, unhinged stare, clambering up walls in a way no human could. She felt bile stinging the back of her throat and fought against the desire to wretch. She would stay strong, just as she always had. Put up a wall around herself and wear a mask. Take the internal pain and make it external.
The glass was cold and wearing only the hospital gown she felt oddly vulnerable. Goosebumps were rising along her skin and she shivered, missing her own clothes. Outside in the hall, she heard light footsteps and soft voices as two nurses going by. She knew if they found her up and moving around they’d fuss. Her leg had been badly savaged and she wasn’t supposed to walk on it yet.
Silently she returned to her bed and lay down. She wrapped the blankets tight around her body, covering every inch of exposed skin that she could. Her fingers lightly grazed the scars on her shoulders. She couldn’t get the image of his eyes out of her head. The way he had looked at her, the almost hungry look in his eyes.
‘You are different from the rest.’
That was what he had said. She already knew that. She didn’t fit in. Even Claire had said it.
‘Why do you act like you’re not one of us?’
Because she wasn’t and he had confirmed that. It was written across her skin and in her eyes. Maybe that was why the police woman had sent her here. She’d seen the look in her eyes and then instead of sending Casey off with her uncle, she’d instead had her whisked away with to the hospital in the back of the ambulance. It was a pleasant, if brief, relief. She already had to fight to keep one monster out of her head, the one waiting at home could wait.
‘You are different from the rest.’
Casey pulled a pillow over her head, clamping her hands over her ears in a futile attempt to block out the voices inside her head. Of course it did nothing, if anything the angry voices seemed to speak louder in response.
‘You are different from the rest. Your heart is pure! Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.’
She dug her nails into her skin, screwing her eyes shut tight. Casey knew that the nightmares would probably fade with time, although she doubted his voice would ever truly disappear. It would linger in the dark place at the back of her mind, the one she pretended wasn’t there, where the soft venomous voices of her greatest fears liked to wait, sharpening their claws in preparation.
Above her, the light continued to flicker and hum.
Chapter 2: One
Of all the things you choose in life, you don't get to choose what your nightmares are. You don't pick them; they pick you ~ John Irving
Morning found Casey tangled in her sheets after another sleepless night. A nurse bustled in, chatting animatedly as she placed Casey’s breakfast tray on the table. The teenager groaned, the relentless perkiness of the nurse was incredibly draining. No one was that happy all the time.
“How are you this morning sweetie? Did you manage to get some sleep?” Casey stayed silent. “The doctor says you should be able to go home soon, as long as you keep your leg rested. The police are going to stop by today and ask you a few more questions.” The nurse paused and there was an unspoken air of ‘it would be helpful if you actually answered them this time’. “Oh and you got some flowers!”
“Flowers?” Casey was so startled she broke her silence. No one would send her flowers. She didn’t have any friends and her only family was her uncle, who most definitely was not the flower sending type.
“Yes. Lucky girl! I’ll bring them in when I’m done dropping off the breakfasts,” she said with a bright smile, clearly pleased that the girl was actually responding to her, before sweeping out of the room.
Casey slumped against her pillows and poked at the breakfast tray. The question of the flowers continued to niggle at the back of her brain. Had they been sent by the school? Some kind of public image stunt to show how caring they were? Maybe it was Claire and Marcia’s parents that had sent them? That seemed more likely but Casey was pretty sure they just wanted to ignore her.
She continued to prod listlessly at her breakfast. Her appetite hadn’t been great to begin with and the hospital food certainly wasn’t helping matters.
The door opened again and the nurse returned, carrying a large vase filled with white calla lilies. The perfume that wafted off of them was sickly sweet and reminded Casey of funerals.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” the nurse said, setting them down.
“Do you know who they’re from?” Casey asked hesitantly.
“I wasn’t on duty when they arrived, the receptionist said it was a young man who brought them in. But… yes, there’s a card!” She separated an envelope from the bouquet and handed it over to Casey.
The young girl hesitated, turning the envelope over between her fingers. Her name was written in smooth cursive lettering on the front and the envelope felt heavy. She ran her nail under the flap and opened it, tipping the contents out onto her bed. There were two cards inside, one printed, the other a folded piece of paper that appeared to have been made by a child. Frowning, Casey spread them out in front of her. The first was lilac with a picture of a flower on it and curling writing that spelled ‘Get well soon’ at the top. The second was a drawing of what initially resembled a potato on top of a triangle with a scribble of black pen either side. After a moment of staring at it, she realised it was meant to be a drawing of a girl with dark hair.
She flipped open the first card.
I do hope you are recovering. I am very sorry for what happened to you. We look forward to seeing you again.
At the sight of the words, Casey felt her stomach twist sharply and bile rose up her throat. She gagged and tried to throw herself from the bed, towards the bathroom. Her injured leg caught in the blankets and she tipped over, falling onto the floor as she retched furiously.
The nurse rushed over to her, shouting for support as she seized a vomit bucket. Casey continued to puke into the bowl offered to her, her dark hair plastering to her cheeks, frustrated confused tears streaming down her cheeks. Soon nothing else would come, just yellow stomach acid that burned her throat as she coughed and spluttered. The nurse tried to get her to her feet but the hands felt cold and intrusive on Casey’s skin, her mind catapulting her backwards. She screeched and lashed out wildly. Her brain was in overdrive, flitting between fight and flight. The world was spinning around her, her throat stung and her leg seared with pain so bad it felt like she was experiencing the teeth tearing into her flesh over again.
“Lorazepam!” someone shouted.
Strong hands held her down and there was a sharp stinging in her arm as a needle was pushed into her arm. Sedatives flooded her bloodstream. She continued to fight as they infiltrated her body but slowly she began to relax. As they took hold, she went limp in the arms of the hospital staff.
She was lifted into her bed and there was a brief discussion about whether further restraints would be needed. It was decided that for the time being she would be left unrestrained and they would reassess when the sedatives wore off. They didn’t like sedating people, especially someone as young as Casey but if she posed a risk they really had no choice.
No one was really sure what had set her off. The nurse was aware that Casey’s meltdown had started when she’d opened the card but after an inspection of the object, there was no sign of anything particularly provocative.
The nurses checked over her vitals, cleared up the mess of vomit on the floor and left her to rest. She had been through a great deal after all, it was understandable for her to experience some distress. It would have been stranger if she hadn’t.
Casey lay stretched out on the bed, arms tucked at her sides. Her skin was eerily pale, her veins stood out lividly, seeming almost black. The criss-crossed scars were sharp, a vivid drawing on the canvas of flesh. Under the harsh light of the hospital, she had an almost corpselike appearance. Even unconscious she didn’t look peaceful. Her chest fluttered lightly, her eyelids flickered as she was caught in some terrible dream. Trapped in the cocoon of drugs, she was quite helpless.
Crisp autumn leaves, dappled sunlight filtering through tree branches. The smell of damp dirt, the sound of the wind and birds. This was her happy place. Other memories had been tainted by her uncle but this place had always been somewhere private between her and her dad. She’d not been there since he died.
Casey was sat on a rock, looking out at a winding stream that babbled happily in front of her. The breeze felt good on her skin. She didn’t feel tired or sore. It was perfect.
As she sat, watching the water, the sky seemed to darken as clouds gathered over head. They blocked out the sun surprisingly quickly and the temperature dropped sharply.
From within the forest came the sound of a twig snapping, a soft sound that most would have missed but that Casey’s hunter instincts picked up immediately. She rose slowly, stood on the rock and searching the trees around her. She wasn’t afraid, the forest was home to many animals that she knew wouldn’t hurt her unprovoked. As she looked the undergrowth seemed to get denser, the branches tangling together. Shadows, like skeletal arms, reached out across the ground towards her.
Now she felt a spark of fear strike in her heart. She wasn’t sure why. This was a safe place, she should have no reason to be afraid…
A low growl resonated amongst the trees. It was animalistic but at the same time, there was something more to it. There was silence for a moment before a crouched figure emerged from the trees.
“Rejoice…” it snarled softly, eyes wild and teeth bared. “For you are one of us.”
The creature, man no longer, ran towards her. Casey tried to move backwards, tumbling off the rock. She screamed, closing her eyes as the beast bared down on her. She rolled down the bank and into the river, sinking down into the depths. From below, grey arms reached up and grasped her ankles. She tried to yell, water flooding into her open mouth and down her throat.
As Casey gasped and thrashed, she twisted to see what had hold of her. Rotten flesh, hair floating like weed, blank vacant eyes, chunks of their body eaten away. Claire and Marcia, hands drawing her down towards them. Casey kicked out wildly as she sank further into the water. The world swirled into impenetrable blackness around her.
Casey’s eyes opened slowly. It took her a moment to register her surroundings. No hospital bed. No glaring lights. Instead she found herself staring at grey brick, with a patchy layer of white plaster that had clearly been done in a hurry. She was still on a bed, but it had a metal frame bolted to the floor. There was a door at one end of the room and at the other was an opening into a pristine bathroom.
She sat up sharply, head spinning. There was something horribly familiar about the room although she was sure she’d never been there before. The bathroom, the way everything was set out, it was all very similar to something else she’d seen…
A slow trickle of icy fear ran down her spine as realisation set in.
“No…” she whispered. No. No, this couldn’t be really happening.
She jumped out of bed and rang to the door, trying the handle. It was locked. She pounded angrily at the door and shouted.
“HE LET ME GO! HE LET ME GO! I SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”
She knew the action would do nothing, she’d seen Claire and Marcia do the same thing with no luck, but she couldn’t help it. After everything she couldn’t be back here. She just couldn’t.
“It’s a dream. It’s a dream.”
This was the nightmare that had haunted her every waking moment, of course it would come to her when she finally succumbed to sleep.
Casey backed away from the door, hands shaking furiously, and sank to the floor. She rested her head against the wall, feeling the rough plaster and uneven brick digging into her skin. She wasn’t wearing the hospital gown anymore, which should have been her first clue that something was off about the situation.
“But he let me go…” she murmured. Her mind was trying to cling to the knowledge that she was dreaming but it was a struggle. So long without sleep had merged fiction and fact into a seamless confusing blur.
Her leg burned, surprisingly badly, not like the echo of feeling she was used to in her dreams, the memory of pain that could never live up to the reality but that in the moment always seemed far worse than anything else.
Casey closed her eyes, rocking slightly.
“Wake up… wake up… wake up…” she whispered. “This isn’t real. He let me go… I’m not what he wants…”
She was being stupid. Dreams couldn’t hurt her. She’d wake up and find herself back in the hospital having to put up with the over excitable nurse and the horrible food.
At least… she hoped.
Casey heard the grating noise of a key turning in a lock, followed by a bolt being slid back. She didn’t look up, keeping her eyes resolutely turned down. Footsteps resounded around the room.
“It’s not real. It’s a dream.”
“I’m sorry my dear, this is anything but a dream. Welcome back.”
Chapter 3: Two
Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge ~ Plato
Patricia looked down at the girl and smiled kindly. She had insisted that she handle this particular conversation. After all, the poor thing was likely to be scared and confused, not yet understanding the role she had been chosen for. Once things were explained she would see. In the meantime she would keep Dennis away. He claimed he wouldn’t do anything inappropriate but it was far too important to even take the chance.
“He let me go,” the girl whispered. “Why am I here? He let me go!”
“Yes,” Patricia said, focusing on keeping her tone soothing. “Yes he did. But then, we all make mistakes now don’t we?” She reached out and gently brushed some hair from the girl’s cheek. She flinched. “He spared you because you were different from the others. Special.”
“I’m not special.” The teen drew away, wrapping her arms around her knees as she fought to make herself as small as possible.
“You underestimate yourself. It was no accident that you came here.”
“You kidnapped us,” she snapped back.
Patricia couldn’t help a slight smile despite the rude tone of her words. The spark, a fire that lingered deep inside the others had tried so hard to snuff out.
“It was more than that. It was fate. For him to find you, hidden amongst the unworthy.”
“They were my friends.” Even as she said the words, the lie was there. They weren’t friends… she was different. The odd one. The pity invite.
Patricia ignored the interruption and continued.
“One amongst hundreds and he found you. And, oh my dear, he has such wonderful plans for you.” Patricia straightened up. “Get some reset. You’ll need your strength for what’s to come.”
She turned and walked away. Casey watched, motionless. Others would have panicked, tried to fight or flee but she knew better. Her mind was working at high speed, dissecting every word and drinking in every detail of the room. She could draw on experience as well, a benefit she’d not had before. But then… so could they. Her only hope was that their fractured mind would work against them.
Focus. Don’t give in to panic. Every second is important.
She got on the bed, lying back and staring at the blank ceiling. It would work.
Review the facts. Predator or prey, start with what you know and fill in the gaps later.
Kevin. That was his name. Kevin Wendall Crumb. Saying it brought him back… sometimes. And not for very long. If she were to try that, she needed an exit already in sight. Then there were the other parts of him. she’d met three… no, four, she reminder herself. That monster was a separate person as well. It was hard for her to see him the same way as the others. Like comparing a lion to a dog. Both could be dangerous but one was infinitely more so.
Hedwig. She probably knew the most about him. He thought like… no he was a child. But he had the strength of a grown man, even if he didn’t realise it. She might be able to manipulate him but if she upset him, he might not have the self-control to restrain himself from hurting her.
Patricia… she was in charge, or it seemed that way. And she was dedicated to him… If whatever great purpose she was here for required her alive, Patricia would keep her that way. But she was also the least likely to slip up.
Dennis, that was the man’s name. He might be a weak link. She could read his predilections, his tastes. And he was obsessive. These were both things she could exploit, although the prospect of using the former made her want to vomit.
Then there was Him. She didn’t even like thinking about that one and she wanted to avoid Him at all costs. No weaknesses that she knew of. Even bullets hadn’t phased Him.
She would wait. Play nice and focus her attention on Hedwig and Dennis. That was the best bet.
Time moved slowly and all Casey could do was wait. The careful numbness that had settled on her during her stay in the hospital had gone, leaving behind it a waking nightmare of reality. When the key finally turned in the lock the sudden noise in the silence sent her heart racing.
The door opened and Dennis came in with a plate. As he approached Casey noted that he kept his head slanted slightly as though he was avoiding looking at her.
“Patricia says you are to eat it all,” he said stiffly as he set the plate down at the end of the bed. He retreated to the far wall and rested against it. His body was tense and rigid, eyes darting around the room. Casey watched him, ignoring the sandwich. He noticed the lack of movement and his gaze snapped to her. “Eat. Or I’ll make you.”
“Why? What’s the point?” He blinked, taken aback. Maybe because of her behaviour before he’d expected her to comply.
“You need to eat. You’re too thin.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Dennis let out an aggravated sigh and marched over. He picked up the plate, thrusting it into her hands.
“Eat.” A vein throbbed near her temple. Casey looked down at the plate, a perfectly square sandwich resting in the centre. Slowly and deliberately she picked it up and then carefully crumbled it t pieces, scattering them on the floor.
She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, maybe something instantaneous and explosive. The reaction was subtle. A tight set to the jaw, a spike in his breathing, his fists clenched and unclenched.
“You. Stupid. Little. girl.” He hissed. “Look at what you’ve done.”
Casey decided to push her luck. She threw the plate at his head, not really intending to hit him. It struck the wall beside him and smashed, shards raining down. His scowl grew.
“You won’t eat, fine.” He stalked to the door and exited, returning a moment later with the dustpan and brush. “Clean it up.”
Casey ignored him, rolling onto her side to face the wall. She listened to him shuffling around, cleaning the mess she’d made and the sound of footsteps heading towards the door. She waited for the creak and click that would signify him leaving but it didn’t come. There was only silence and her own quiet breathing. Part of her wanted to turn her head and look, to confirm that he was still there but she resisted.
Her stomach twisted and grumbled. She began to feel a little regretful at wasting the sandwich, but at the same time it had been useful to gauge Dennis’ reaction. She’d known that he was focused on cleanliness but the only times she’d really witnessed it was his fixation on removing their dirty clothes last time… and to be honest she wasn’t entirely sure that was just a cleanliness thing.
Wrapping her arms tight around herself, Casey closed her eyes. Her instincts screamed at her to keep them open, to keep hold of her senses and stay alert, but she knew that she needed to rest. She was still recovering from the last encounter, she wouldn’t be any use if she let herself get worn out.
From the door, Dennis let out a soft exhale. His eyes were fixed on Casey’s motionless form atop the rumpled covers, her legs tucked up in a way that made her seem even more childlike and vulnerable. Her dark hair splayed across the pillow and through the tangle he could make out the scars that had ensnared the beast so completely. He found it strangely fascinated that she, the one he’d brought by mistake, was something more than just an offering. She wasn’t much to look at, quiet and unassuming with those dark eyes that said more than any words.
He let his gaze roam down her form. She was wearing an ugly oversized green sweater that Patricia had chosen, with a pair of loose sweatpants. None of the items fit her properly and Dennis couldn’t help but wonder if that had been an intentional move on Patricia’s part to minimise any opportunity for his desires to overtake him.
You shouldn’t even be looking at her… she is not for you.
No, he shouldn’t be looking because she is a child.
Dennis scowled and let himself out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He rolled his neck and stretched. It was rare for him to be granted time in the light where he was able to relax. His mind was usually racing, picking up on every crooked item, every stain and crumb. But he had cleaned thoroughly before Casey had been retrieved and Hedwig hadn’t had an opportunity to mess things up yet. He ran his fingers over a surface, examining the digits for any trace of dust.
Their new home wasn’t quite as comfortable as the one they’d established under the zoo, but then they’d had years to set things up there. This one was made at short notice and was only a temporary space until something more permanent could be found. There was a small bed made up, a cracked sink with a shining faucet that he had scrubbed thoroughly and a single shelf that held a small pile of neat clothes, a plate and a few pieces of food. The other alters hadn’t managed to take the light for more than a few moments, so they hadn’t bothered to provide supplies for them and only the barest minimum for himself, Patricia and Hedwig. The priority had been to ensure that they had a safe and secure place to hold Casey until the beast was ready for her. And until she was ready for him, as Patricia so often reminded him. It was important that she understood and accepted her part in all of this.
He went over to the camp bed and smoothed the sheets before settling himself on top. He would enjoy his time in the light, knowing that soon he’d probably be banished back to the dark by the others. He closed his eyes stroked the bedding, moving his hands back and forth. In his mind he saw the girls. The two he’d followed had been far more his normal type but he couldn’t deny that something had captivated his attention in Casey.
Dennis… stop this now… if I cannot trust you around her then I will have to ensure you do not come to the light within her presence.
I know Patricia. I can control myself. Believe it or not, but I have more restraint than you give me credit for. I am not going to jeopardise things for us; I know how hard we have worked.
Good. Ensure you keep that in mind.
Dennis opened his eyes and stared at the spider web of cracks above him. It was easier to ignore the others when he had something visual to focus on and it was more important than ever to keep them in the dark now that Casey was around. After all it was unlikely that, should she be released, that they’d manage to take possession of her a third time.
He unfastened the top button on his shirt, allowing for a rare moment of imperfection. It wouldn’t last long, he knew that before more than a few minutes had passed he’d be compelled to refasten it but he enjoyed testing his limits. Just like with the girls. He would watch, keeping them perfect and untainted, their clothes unrumpled, their hair neat and faces doll like. But he always wanted more, to touch, to mar and ruin. But he wasn’t ready yet. He just had to keep testing himself.
With a grimace, Dennis refastened the button and lay, arms fixed at his sides and eyes staring vacantly upwards.
Chapter 4: Three
I can resist everything except temptation ~ Oscar Wilde
Patricia looked over her notes. Naturally everything had been planned out in meticulous detail. It was necessary, after all this was far more important than any of their previous offerings. The first step had been to collect her. That had gone remarkably well. A brief smile formed on Patricia’s face. It was all coming together.
Don’t get too excited yet Patricia. She’s in no state to be given in her current condition.
Her smile vanished.
You’re right. It is troubling to say the least.
The girl’s injuries would need to heal and she would need to gain a little weight before she was delivered, otherwise the chances of her surviving were slim. The beast was not known for his… gentle nature after all.
You cannot give that guiltless fledgling to the vile creature.
Be quiet Orwell. You sound like you ate a thesaurus.
And you sound like you’re on their side Jade.
Of course I’m not! I don’t want that girl to be anywhere near him… it’s bad enough having to share a mind with them.
“Quiet please. I am trying to concentrate.”
She traced her fingers across the notes, feeling the indents of the words. The medical aspect was the most important. She would have liked to wait a little longer to reclaim her, until the child’s injuries were healed but it would have been too difficult to track her, taken too long. At least in the hospital she was in a clear location.
The first thing she needs is a shower.
She can barely stand Dennis.
It would be reasonably easy to collect the majority of the medical supplies. Bandages and such they already had a supply of, as well as most antiseptics. Medicines would be slightly more difficult. A pharmacy would present a high risk. Breaking into someone’s home might be the better option. But none of the horde had any medical experience. Even if they could get access to medicines, how would they know which ones were needed?
Dramamine. Cephalexin. Lorezapam. Paroxetine. I would also recommend some natural supplements like royal jelly to help with the weight gain and general vitamins given that she’s stuck in a basement…
Why are you helping them?
Because I’d rather do that then have them accidentally murder her with incorrect medications. Dramamine for nausea. Cephalexin for her bites. Lorezapam to keep her calm. Paroxetine for her anxiety and likely depression.
Patricia considered and wrote down the list. She would go out a little later to collect the items. Another pressing concern was Casey’s refusal to eat. Of course, she could force her but she was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. She resolved to have a… friendly chat, with the girl when she returned from her outing.
Casey had spent so long staring at the ceiling it was beginning to feel like it was closing in on her. She might have slept, she wasn’t entirely sure. The four walls were already eating away at her state of mind. It was hard not to be demoralized in such bleak surroundings.
Her stomach growled. She was really regretting throwing away her sandwich and silently cursed herself for it. Her father taught her better than that. You didn’t waste food, especially in a hostile situation where you weren’t sure when the next meal would come. There was no way of knowing how long she’d been there. At times she could hear noises from outside the room, soft voices that she guessed were just the different personalities talking to one another and not anyone who might actually help her.
Casey forced herself out of the bed, groaning in pain as she put weight on her leg. Any lingering traces of the painkillers that the hospital had pumped into her had disappeared and she could feel everything. She tried to focus on something else but it was just a nagging reminder that running was not an option for her even if she did get the opportunity.
She took a few staggering steps towards the bathroom, reaching out to brace herself against the wall. Misjudging the distance, Casey was sent sprawling to the floor. She couldn’t keep a startled yell from escaping her.
“Bloody hell…” she murmured to herself, dragging her body into a sitting position with her back against the wall. Her sweatpants had darkened in patches along her thigh and she tugged at the fabric to see why. It wouldn’t move high enough so instead she awkwardly wriggled the pants off so that she was sitting with one leg bare, the other covered. Now she could see tiny rivulets of blood had begun to run down from her still healing bite, the bandages stained a rusty brown.
Casey groaned, closing her eyes. The image of the beast crawling up the wall suddenly imprinted itself on her brain and she jerked sharply, eyes flying open once again. She let out another yelp when she saw that she was no longer alone in the room. Dennis, she assumed based on his clothes, had let himself in silently and was stood by the doorway, watching her.
“What are you doing down there?”
“Something wrong with the bed?” There was an underlying terseness to his voice and Casey was reminded of a taut string, ready to break at the slightest pressure.
“No. I just… I was trying to walk.”
“Your leg…” his eyes flickered over her exposed limb, his words faltering as they roamed up to her thigh. Dennis’ head shook slightly like he was trying to dislodge whatever he was thinking of and he cleared his throat. “Your leg is still badly injured. Walking probably isn’t a good idea yet. Or running, just in case that was your next bright idea.”
“I need to use the bathroom. I figured you’d prefer that to me peeing on myself.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to try and make me eat again?”
“No, I’m leaving that particular conversation to Patricia.”
Dennis was silent for a moment, regarding Casey with an unreadable expression.
“You were quieter last time.”
“Words can be powerful.”
“In the right circumstances.” He broke eye contact sharply and looked around the room before approaching her. “Come on, let’s get you back into your bed.”
He stooped to take hold of her and get her to her feet but the moment his hand neared, Casey flinched. She tried hard to suppress it but the sharp tremor was undeniable. Dennis stilled, slowly cocking his head to the side. There was something strangely childlike about his movements, a curiosity to his expression. Very deliberately, he moved his hand forward. His eyes were locked with hers and Casey knew with a sick certainty that he was testing her. She remembered a boy she’d known when she was young who pulled the wings off flies just to see what would happen. Dennis had the same look on his face.
His hand came to rest on her calf and her breathing audibly hitched at the touch. She wanted to lash out or pull away, anything to get his hand away from her but she refused to break. No weakness, it was too dangerous. Like telling a child to ignore a bully, she had to not react. His hand inched forward along the curve of her leg, up to her knee. Casey’s breathing was ragged now and she stared ahead numbly without really seeing. Dennis’ expression didn’t change on the surface, but tiny details gave away his true feelings. A tension in the set of his jaw, the throb of the vein at his temple, a slight tremble to his hand.
He crested the peak of her knee, paused for a moment, before slowly descending across the plain of her thigh.
His head jerked back and he tore his hand away like he had been scalded.
“Up,” he barked, grabbing her wrist and roughly tugging her to her feet. Casey offered no resistance and let him march her back to the bed, wincing as the sharp movements sent jarring bursts of pain through her leg.
Dennis barely waited for her to be seated before sweeping out of the door. There was a pause and a flurry of muffled voices outside. A distant part of Casey’s mind registered the fact that she’d not heard the door lock but she was too distracted to pay much attention. Besides, what could she really do with that information?
Her hands were trembling and now that Dennis had left the room, her breathing had become more erratic. She fisted the bed covers beneath her, twisting the fabric with knuckles white from exertion. No matter how deeply she breathed, it felt like the oxygen wasn’t reaching her lungs. Her throat felt thick and swollen as she gulped down air, her stomach churning sickeningly. The blood pounded in her head, deafening her.
She counted silently, lips moving to mouth the words. Her eyes roamed the room for markers, anything she could use to ground herself.
The repetition of the numbers soothed her and she felt her breathing slow. She allowed her body to relax as she reached the end.
Better. That was better.
The door opened once more and Patricia came in, holding a small bundle. She approached the bed and perched at the foot, setting the bundle to one side.
“I am very sorry for Dennis’ behaviour. He knows better than to act like that.”
Casey looked at her hands, folded on her lap, and didn’t speak. Patricia reached over and lifted her chin, forcing the girl to meet her gaze.
“You do not need to be afraid of him. I won’t allow him to harm you.” Casey gave a slight, nervous nod, deciding the best path was simply to agree with the woman. This seemed to satisfy Patricia as she smiled and retrieved her bundle. “Lets have a look at that leg, shall we?”
Her attention turned to Casey’s exposed limb and she shook her head at the sodden bandages. Patricia unwrapped her bundle revealing a selection of bandages, creams and medicines. As she began to remove the old bandages, Casey stiffened slightly.
“Now then, I hear that you have been refusing your food,” she said as she worked. There was something oddly melodic about her voice and Casey got the impression that she was at least trying to distract her from the busy hands on her skin. “Is there a reason for that?”
“I… I don’t see the point.”
“In eating? Last time I checked it was a required part of survival.”
“I’m going to die in here anyway, why prolong it?”
Patricia’s hands stilled and she looked up.
“You have not been brought here to die Casey. If you chose that to be your fate, we would all be greatly upset.”
“Then why am I here? Stop with the cryptic bullshit and just tell me.”
“Language.” She returned her attention to the injury. “The beast has great plans for you Casey, as I already told you. You are no mere sacrifice, you are an offering of an entirely different sort. Those girls were cattle, their only purpose was to be slaughtered. You are more than them. A wolf amongst sheep, a queen amongst peasants. A tribute to the beast of flesh rather than blood.”
“He seemed to be getting a fair share of flesh last time…” Casey muttered.
Patricia didn’t respond vocally, instead for a brief moment she allowed her thumb to place pressure on Casey’s bites, eliciting a hiss of pain from the girl.
“My hand slipped.”
Casey looked away, sufficiently cowed. She’d hoped that by getting Patricia talking she might learn something but it was more of the same, words that didn’t make any sense. She knew exactly as much as she did before – that she was there for the beast. And if he wasn’t planning on eating her, what were they going to do?
Patricia’s eyes ran over the marks on Casey’s legs and she smiled to herself. Her master was capable of such beauty. To her, the jagged teeth marks were akin to poetry written across a page of near translucent parchment.
She finished redressing the wound and separated out the relevant pills before looking to Casey. The girl was staring off at the far wall, her eyes revealing a greater turmoil than her masklike face.
“I want you to take these.”
Casey glanced at the pills in her hand.
“What are they?”
“They’ll help you get better. I want you to take them and then get some sleep. When you wake up, I’ll find you something to eat and you can take a nice hot bath.” Her other hand reached out and stroked Casey’s hair. “I’m sure once you’ve rested and eaten you’ll feel much less out of sorts.”
She pressed the pills into Casey’s hand, smiling in a way that didn’t reach her eyes. Casey looked over the pills. She recognized some of them which was comforting and she doubted they’d have gone to such extremes merely to poison her, so she dry swallowed the pills. Patricia wasn’t someone where defiance was likely to help her situation.
The woman smiled and gestured for Casey to lie down, which she did. The blankets were carefully tucked around the girl and as Patricia got to her feet, she stooped to kiss her lightly on the forehead.
Chapter 5: Four
Happiness is hard to recall. It is just a glow ~ Frank McCourt
Whatever Patricia had given her worked. For the first time in, well years if she was honest, Casey slept without dreams and without waking. Almost. At one point, she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming or awake, but she opened her eyes to the darkened room and was aware of a presence behind her. She was lying on her side and could feel a warmth radiating from the other side of the bed. There was a light pressure on her wrist like someone was holding it and she thought she could hear the faint sound of breathing. The haze of sleep was too strong however and she wasn’t able to shake it for long enough to look.
When she finally woke properly, she felt rested in a way she was unused to. Even at home she couldn’t sleep properly. She would take cat naps whenever possible, sleeping in the library at school if she got the chance. Throughout the night she’d doze on and off but never for more than a short time, doing her best to keep her guard up. Even when her uncle was away, it was impossible to shake that nagging fear and even if she did managed to sleep for longer than half an hour, it was sleep plagued with nightmares.
This was good, it would give her much needed clarity. As much as she disliked leaving herself vulnerable at night, she couldn’t stay awake and expect to think clearly. Besides, really she was in just as much danger in the day as the night. She was at their mercy and they could come after at any time. If she stayed awake, she’d just be doing more damage to herself and making it harder to fight back when she needed too.
Briefly she wondered if her uncle knew she was missing yet or if he cared. In an abstract way he did, but only to the extent of possession. She wasn’t a person in his mind, she was an object for him to keep. Casey rested her head against the frame of the bed. She’d been so close to getting away, to getting out from his house and starting her life again.
Be careful what you wish for… she’d got away, only to end up in a different prison.
She glanced down at the bed, her eyes coming to rest on her arm. Faint bruises were beginning to form on her wrist, a row of four slim marks. She frowned, trying to remember what she might have done to cause it. Had it been when Dennis had pulled her to the bed? She hadn’t thought he’d been that rough with her.
A scuffling noise came from the door and Casey noticed the small amount of light coming from beneath was being intermittently cut off. Someone was outside. She just wasn’t sure who it was going to be.
“Hello?” she called hesitantly. Part of her wanted to stay silent and not invite any further conversation with one of the more unpleasant personalities but she decided to risk it.
The door eased open slowly and the familiar face peeked around.
The voice made her instantly relax, just a little bit. Hedwig. At least he wasn’t openly threatening. Of the three she’d interacted with, he was the easiest for her to handle. She’d babysit a little in the past and all she had to do was treat him the same way she would a normal child… maybe a little more cautiously in case he hurt her but even then it would be an accident. Part of her wondered if he actually had the strength of an adult. The beast was capable of crazy physical feats and he occupied the same body. Maybe they could only do what their personality was capable of? If that was the case, Hedwig was looking better and better as her way out.
“Miss Patricia said I’m not allowed to bother you… am I bothering you?”
“No, it’s fine. Come in.”
He scampered over and clambered up onto the bed, smiling.
“Miss Patricia said you were poorly and I had to let you sleep but you been asleep for ages and I made you a get better card. Did you like it?”
“I did… yes. I’d really like it if I could make you a card. But I don’t have any paper.”
“I got paper. And pens, lots of pens. I got a red one and a blue one, those are my favourites.”
“Could I borrow some, maybe? I’d like to make you a thank you card.” If she could write down her observations, it would make it easier to keep track of everything and organise her thoughts into something coherent.
“Maybe. I don’t have so much since we moved. I miss my old room, I miss the zoo, I liked the animals. Etcetera.”
One leg dangled down off the bed and he swung it happily, foot scuffing against the ground. Casey watched in silence. She knew Hedwig might be her best bet at getting out or at least getting some information that wasn’t cryptic riddles, but she’d seen how protective they could get when she tried to manipulate him before. She had to trend very carefully.
“I was sad when you went away. I know the beast was going to take you away but I like you. I’m happy you’re back. And you’re not going away again.”
At his words, Casey felt tears stinging her eyes. She tried to wipe them away before he noticed but one escaped. Hedwig’s brow furrowed and he reached over to catch the stray tear with his thumb.
“You don’t want to be here?”
“I don’t know why I’m here Hedwig. And that scares me. That’s all.”
“I know. Miss Patricia told me. She said you’re were coming back and you were going to stay with us for always. The beast wants you so you have to stay.” His eyes darted around, distracted. “Do you have any brothers or sisters? I always wanted one. Mr Dennis and Miss Patricia are okay but they won’t play with me so I really want a brother… but a sister would be okay to.”
“No, I don’t have any. It was just me. Me and my dad. And then… me and my uncle.”
“What happened to your dad?”
“He died…” She looked away, eyes burning.
“I’m sorry, I’m not meant to make you sad… Miss Patricia will be really mad at me…” He got up, expression ashamed. “I better go before she comes back.”
He headed towards the door and Casey bit her lip, a desperate idea suddenly forming.
“Hedwig, wait! You… you said you control who comes to the… to the light, right?”
“Yeah…?” He paused. Casey gestured for him to come over, which he did warily.
“Are there any other girls? I mean, other than Miss Patricia?” she asked him.
“Sure there is. There’s Mary. And Jade.”
Jade. That was a name she recognised and she seized it.
“Yes, Jade. She's about my age, right?” It was a guess based on what she'd seen but Hedwig nodded. “Well I would really like it if you could let me talk to her for a bit.”
“I… erm… always wanted a brother and sister too. And... well, you're like a little brother,” she told him, the lies flowing naturally from her lips. She felt a little bad taking advantage of him but it was her only option. She needed to see if this was a route she could pursue before she tried anything else.
“Yes. But I'd like a girl to talk to as well. About girl things that you'd find really boring. Like... Shoes.” She picked the first thing that came to mind, hoping it would work “So, do you think you could?”
“Are you trying to trick me again?” Hedwig asked, frowning.
“No I promise, I just want... Five minutes. I can talk about girl things with her and then you can come back and we can play games.”
“I don't know. I don't think Miss Patricia would like it”
“Miss Patricia said not to upset me, right? Well if you do this for me Hedwig I'll be so happy and she'll be really pleased with you.” She tried to keep the desperation out of her tone, she didn't want to risk upsetting him so that he refused.
“Okay... Five minutes.”
It was fascinating to watch the change. Of course she'd seen it before but this time she was paying closer attention. His posture became more upright, the way he sat shifted so his legs met at the ankles. His expression clouded for a moment before blinking rapidly, like someone waking from a deep sleep.
“Jade...?” Casey asked tentatively, half fearing that they were playing a trick on her.
“Yes? C...Casey, right? Oh sweetie I'm so sorry you're here again... what they're doing is monstrous!”
“Jade we don't have much time before Hedwig sends you away again. Can you and the others do anything to get me out of here?”
“We're trying. We can only take the light when they're asleep and only for a little bit. We're trying to contact someone and tell them where you are but there's no phones and they've changed all the passwords on the computer. They’re being really careful after our last try.”
“Please Jade... I know that don't want to die down here." Jade's expression became conflicted and she bit down on her lip.
"Oh...sweetie... what they have planned for you is far worse... but we’re going to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen. We'll do what we can, we promise." She squeezed Casey's hand. Casey felt those persistent tears running down her cheeks.
"What are they going to do to me Jade?"
Jade opened her mouth to speak, faltering for a moment.
"You're going to be his b-" She cut off sharply and her face went blank. No! Casey realised what was happening. It wasn't enough time. Hedwig blinked, returning to the light, and he smiled. Then he noticed Casey's tears.
"Hey! You said it would make you happy, etcetera. Why are you crying again?"
"It... it did make me happy Hedwig," Casey said, wiping her eyes. "I just... my leg hurts, that's all." It wasn't technically a lie. Her leg was burning under the covers, a dull pain that slowly built as the painkillers wore off.
He seemed to believe this and began to babble happily as Casey tried to reign in her emotions. Things weren't any worse than they'd been before she'd spoken to Jade, there was no point losing her head. The situation remained the same and she had to stay calm, work out the best way to escape.
"I have to go," Hedwig said abruptly. "Miss Patricia says you can't be over...over... overstim...."
He got up and headed for the door.
"I'll come back soon and we can play together!”
"Remember to bring your pens and paper so I can make you a thank you card." The words choked in her throat and she looked away from the boy, taking a long slow breath. She heard the click of the door and the sound of the key in the lock. Hedwig would take time but she’d made a start. She'd need to gain his trust little by little. Maybe if she could convince him to bring Jade back more regularly, she'd be able to reach out for help. If the others didn’t find out first. She wasn’t sure how much of what went on during the day each of them was aware of. That was another thing she needed to learn. If Patricia and Dennis could see every conversation she had with Hedwig or with Jade then any plan involving the different personalities was pretty much sunk.
Now she just had to steel her nerves for another visit from Patricia.
Chapter 6: Five
The vine bears three kinds of grape: the first kind of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust ~ Diogenes
Patricia didn't appear for an hour after hedwig's departure. By the time she did, Casey's pills had fully worn off and she was emitting soft groaning noises everytime she moved. When she heard the key in the door she felt a brief rush of relief before scolding herself. Was that their plan? Get her dependant on them until their arrival was a positive? Well it would take a lot more than just a handful of pills to achieve that!
Patricia entered with a tray.
"Good morning. And how are we feeling today?"
"G...good. I slept really well"
"Excellent. Now I've made you breakfast and I want you to eat it all. No more silliness, am I clear?" Casey nodded. "Then afterwards you can take your medication and we'll get you cleaned up."
She set the tray down in front of Casey whose eyes widened slightly at the sheer amount of food on it.
“You want me to eat all of this?”
“Is there a problem with that?” Patricia’s tone had become clipped and her gaze was instantly stern.
“I don’t have much of an appetite generally. Even at home I could never eat this much.”
“You will need your strength for what’s to come Casey.”
"Are you actually going to tell me what that is?"
Patricia was silent for a moment.
"If I tell you, will that make it any easier for you? Or will it just make you fear it more? You're still young and haven't yet accepted the beast or his plans for you. You see us as hostiles rather than what we truly are. But nevertheless, our intentions will come to fruition and if I tell you, I think it will make the inevitable far harder"
She looked at Casey, one eyebrow raised expectantly. Her words struck the girl hard and she considered. If she knew what was planned, she'd know what she had to work against. But at the same time the fear of what was to come could cloud her judgement.
"That makes sense. Don't tell me. But can you tell me when this is likely to happen?"
"We don't have a set timeline as such. Certainly we can't do anything until your leg is healed. Now eat your breakfast."
Casey dutifully began to eat as Patricia busied herself around the room. At first her stomach twisted at the food, unused to such large rich portions but gradually the nausea was replaced with hunger and she soon found herself devouring it. Even with her suddenly ravenous appetite, she still didn’t manage to finish it all. She was hyperaware of Patricia watching every mouthful as she slowed and when she set her fork down, the woman swooped in.
“There’s still a lot left.” The words were casual, but they came out almost like a threat.
“I really can’t eat anymore.”
“hmm… I’ll let it pass on this occasion. I’m pleased to see that you seem to have regained your senses and aren’t throwing another silly tantrum” She took the tray away and held out a hand to Casey. “Let’s get you all cleaned up.”
Patricia helped her up and guided her into the bathroom where she set the taps running. Casey supported herself against the sink as the bath began to fill. Patricia turned to her with an expectant expression.
“You’re not intending to bathe with your clothes on surely?”
“I’m not undressing in front of you.”
“We’re all girls together, you don’t have anything I haven’t seen before.”
“How do I know that Dennis or one of your other personalities won’t be watching? I don’t know how things work for you, he could be spying on me.”
“I can assure you, he is not.”
“I don’t even get changed in front of the other girls in my sports classes. I… please, please let me have some privacy.”
Patricia’s eyes bored into her and Casey felt her skin prickle with loathing. She angrily kicked off the sweatpants before pulling off the oversized sweater, exposing her scarred body. As she stood in just her underwear, the other woman looked her over with a small smile. Casey folded her arms defiantly as every single mark on her body was noted and catalogued in Patricia’s disturbed mind.
“I can see why he likes you…” she said softly. “Keep your bandages dry and call me when you’re finished.”
Casey waited until the bathroom door had closed before removing her underwear and awkwardly clambering into the bath. She sank into the hot water letting out a quiet groan as it washed over her. The water rose, covering her body and she pulled her head back until she was completely submerged. Her dark hair fanned out around her, floating ethereally. Staring up at the ceiling a bitter thought blossomed at the back of her mind. No matter what she tried, there was no guarantee of success… except for one way. It would be so easy… She just had to lie there.
It wasn’t the first time that she’d thought about it, of course it wasn’t. The scars on her body were a testament to that, some done with intent, others just out of a desire to feel a different kind of pain. Really it was the only way to be completely free of this nightmare she found herself in. Even if she ran away and managed to get away, she’d constantly be on edge, fearing that they’d come after her again. If she killed them… well, the chances of that succeeded seemed slim, after her last attempt. And getting away wouldn’t result in anything better, once again she’d just be swapping one prison for another. She didn’t have much longer before she could really be free from her uncle, when she turned eighteen and her father’s inheritance would finally be hers. She’d be able to start a new life doing whatever she wanted.
But you’ll always be afraid. You’ll always be scarred. You’ll always be that little girl. Nothing can change that.
That voice. That constant nagging voice that told her that getting away wouldn’t be enough for her. She’d still be her uncle’s victim, even if it was just in her head. That voice was harder than ever to ignore.
She surfaced, gasping. The water streamed down her face as she blinked blearily. Not today. She had to believe that it was going to get better. She had to keep thinking that once she was free, of her uncle, of Dennis and Patricia, it would all be so much better. Otherwise, what was the point?
The days that followed settled into a routine. Most mornings she’d wake shortly before Patricia arrived with breakfast. The woman would watch to make sure she ate and then help Casey into the bathroom to clean up. She’d been given a selection of clothes to choose from, mostly jumpers and loose pants. Privately Casey wondered if that was to make things easier for her when she had to change or to try and subdue Dennis’… predilections.
She spent most of the day in the silent monotony of the room, occasionally punctuated by a visit from Hedwig, before Patricia returned in the evening with her dinner and medication. There’d been no sign of Dennis but most nights Casey would half wake to a presence behind her on the bed. She had no idea who it was and when she was awake enough to look, she found herself too afraid.
Fortunately, Hedwig did bring her some pens and paper to use and that helped cut down on the insanity inducing dullness of the room. She wasn’t entirely sure if she was meant to have the items, so she kept them hidden under her mattress most of the time. She couldn’t imagine it being an issue, since she couldn’t really do any harm with them (although the thought of papercutting Patricia into submission kept her moderately amused), but it was better to play it safe.
She wrote down anything she thought might be useful to her. Notes on the different personalities. Observations about the room. Possible weaknesses she could exploit or options she could explore. All were hidden under the mattress.
Casey had been there for about a week, she estimated, when Dennis finally made another appearance. She was drawing and when the door began to open, she quickly shoved everything under her bed covers. He shuffled in carrying a bucket of cleaning supplies. His eyes instantly began to roam the room, picking up on every minute detail. His jaw set and his breathing grew laboured.
"You need to... How do you make so much mess when you can't even move? It's unacceptable"
“Call it a talent,” Casey muttered, more to herself than to Dennis.
He scowled and began to make his way to the bathroom but his eyes suddenly latched onto Casey's hands and he froze.
"Nothing" Casey said, reflexively balling her fists and tucking them beneath the covers.
"Don't lie, I saw it" He came over and grabbed her wrist. She yelled and tried to pull free but he was too strong. He forcibly uncurled her fingers, exposing her palms which were stained with patches of red. "What have you done? Have you been hurting yourself?"
"Show me. Show me right now!"
He began to tug at her covers, searching for some kind of wound. Casey yanked her arm away and slapped at his hands.
"It's not blood!"
"I saw it!"
"It's not blood, it's pen!" Dennis stopped and raised an eyebrow.
"Yes!" Casey retrieved the red felt tip along with some of the doodles she'd done. "Hedwig gave me some of his pens to use and i guess i smudged it or something. I'm sorry, I know you don’t like mess… i'll go wash it off." She slid out of bed. Her leg had healed enough for her to make short walks to and from the bathroom largely unassisted, but still not enough for her to make any kind of escape attempt. Patricia had noted the improvement but she’d instructed Casey only to get up unaided when absolutely necessary.
Casey let herself into the bathroom and ran the tap, soaking her hand. As she began to wash them, she was acutely aware of Dennis' eyes burning into her back.
"You're doing that wrong," he said suddenly.
"I'm washing my hands. It's not exactly rocket science," she snapped, continuing with her lather, rub, rinse technique.
"You're doing it wrong," he insisted. "It's not going to come off like that."
Casey turned to make a sarcastic comment, water splashing onto the ground, and let out a yelp as she found herself inches from Dennis. He placed a hand on her shoulders, turning her back to face the sink, before placing an arm either side of her and taking firm hold of her wrists. He pushed her hands under the flow of water, letting it run over both of them. The cuffs of his sleeves darkened as the liquid dampened the fabric.
"I can do it myself," she growled.
"Clearly, you can't." He began to massage the soap into her skin, concentrating his effort on the stains and repeatedly working the area with his thumbs. Their skin was slick against each other and Casey was startled by how soft his usually assertive hands were.
At first there was space left between the two of them but as the pair stood there, Dennis’ body grew closer to hers until every line of him was pressed lightly against her. Casey’s head was level with his chest, stirring with the steady rise and fall. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck as he methodically scrubbed every trace of pen away, leaving her hands flushed pink from his thorough ministrations.
She wanted to say something but it felt wrong somehow. She could see his face reflected in the bathroom surfaces, an almost serene look dominating his expression.
"Dennis?" Casey's voice was barely audible and for a moment he didn't react, leaving her to wonder if he'd even heard. Then his hands stilled, fingers resting loosely against hers as the warm water continued to run over them. Neither of them moved. The only sound was there breathing and the rush of water against porcelain.
Slowly Dennis’ hands moved to the side of the sink but didn’t retract. Instead he seemed to be bracing himself against the fixture. Casey turned slowly, looking up to face him. He gazed down at her with an unreadable expression, arms caging her in. They stood in silence, regarding each other for a long time, neither willing to break first.
He lightly brushed some hair from her face, leaving trails of damp residue across her tender skin. She shivered unconsciously, intimidated by the proximity and fearful of what he might do. His fingers rested on her cheek and Casey wondered if he was going to try to kiss her. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking or feeling, everything about him unsettled her and threw off her instincts. Her eyes slid shut, the only way she had of removing herself from reality.
When she opened them again, Dennis had gone.
Chapter 7: Six
There is no greater glory than love, nor any greater punishment than jealousy ~ Lope de Vega
The shop was bustling. Dennis wound his way through the aisles, keeping his head down. He knew it was risky being out in public; although the news had already moved onto another flavour of the month disaster, there was still the chance someone would recognise him. He’d not had an opportunity to stretch his legs in a while and since he’d had to run an errand anyway, he decided to luxuriate in the momentary freedom. Besides, he had long ago learned that the best place to hide was in plain sight. The art store wasn’t his typical haunt but it was the right combination of busy and understaffed that he could wander undisturbed.
He stopped in front of a shelf of coloured pencils and took his time examining them before selecting a pack. A large sketch book joined the pile before he made his way over to the register. A girl around Casey’s age was working there. Dennis joined the short queue, looking over the girl. She was relatively cute, with curling red hair and bright green eyes. Each customer that came up was greeted with a bright smile, a dimple emerging at the corner of her mouth.
So happy. So normal.
Nothing, compared to Casey.
Dennis smiled slightly to himself, looking down at his shoes. It had been a few days since his… moment with Casey. He wasn’t sure what to refer to it as. She had seemed different that day. Maybe she was finally beginning to warm to their presence.
He looked up sharply to see that the girl was looking to him expectantly. He approached, setting the pencils and sketchpad down on the counter.
“Sorry. I was in a world of my own,” he apologised.
“It’s alright. Having a good day?”
“Yes. Getting better every minute.”
“Glad to hear it.” She scanned the items, taking her time. “Nice set.”
“Do you do gift wrap by any chance?”
“I can. For someone special?” the girl asked as she began to wrap them.
“Yes…” He smiled to himself again. “Very special.”
“Well, they’re very lucky.”
Dennis didn’t speak, just quietly paid and took the package from the girl. Her fingers brushed his as she handed it over, giving him a coy smile as she did.
He tucked the package under one arm and left, heading out onto the street. It was early evening. The sky was stained with colours as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. It was starting to rain and the light droplets felt good on his skin. He took his time walking back, humming tunelessly to himself and drumming his fingers against the side of the package.
Patricia was stirring and he grimaced to himself. The woman had no patience.
You are dawdling…
I am walking.
I don’t like leaving the girl unattended.
She isn’t going anywhere Patricia. Her leg is still damaged and the doors are locked. She is hardly going to find a way to spontaneously disappear, she’s not Houdini.
I detect sarcasm.
I should have made it more obvious.
He quickened his pace as he passed by the train station, eyes down. Just being in the area was unpleasant. His increase in speed seemed to pacify Patricia as she fell silent.
It didn’t take much longer for him to make it back to their home. Everything was as it had been left and Dennis tried to keep an ‘I told you so’ from his thoughts. No need to further aggravate Patricia. They did have to work together after all.
Want me to see if our young friend has learned how to apparate?
Have you been reading Hedwig’s books again or are you just spewing nonsense?
Dennis rolled his eyes and went to the door of Casey’s room. He unlocked it and let himself in. Casey was curled up in the bed, eyes closed and seemingly asleep.
Well, will you look at that.
Dennis, I am going to have to ask you to watch your tone. In fact, I think it’s time you stepped out of the light, you’re clearly tired and need to rest. I know that my Dennis would never speak to me like that.
He tried to block her out and ignore her but her voice broke through every barrier he put up. His only consolation was that he wasn’t doing anything important, anything that he wouldn’t want to be interrupted during.
Patricia, I am fine. I apologise for my tone but it’s rather difficult to concentrate with you persistently talking. If you sleep, I can complete the necessary tasks much quicker.
She didn’t respond but she also didn’t have him thrown from the light so he decided to take it as a victory and get on with his work. Given Casey’s recent increase in mobility, it had been decided that further security measures would be needed so he was adding locks to a number of the doors and replacing any areas where the wood had begun to rot or weaken. Dennis had always been good with his hands and he enjoyed fixing things. He'd already made a number of improvements to their temporary home in the short time Casey had been there and it had begun to feel much more homely... as homely as it was possible to feel in a basement at any rate. The layout reminded him of a house boat. The main space was one long corridor with the various amenities built in. The only exceptions were the bathroom, kitchen and a few former storage spaces off the main hall. He’d got rid of the camp bed and furnished the room with bunks for each of them, set up in such a way that they could be used as sofas during the day. Each was fitted with a curtain to at least give the feeling of privacy, even if the only other people around where ones a curtain wouldn’t block out.
As he worked, he became aware of a noise coming from Casey's room. He paused, cocking his head to one side. The noise was faint but recognisable as crying.
Setting down his tools, he went over to the door and pressed his ear to the wood. Yes, there it was. Definite sounds of distress.
Dennis let himself in quietly. Casey was asleep but far from peaceful. She was groaning and whimpering as she fought off some imaginary foe. He stood in the doorway, conflicted. She looked younger than usual; her defences stripped away to leave the vulnerable child she really was. The blankets tangled around her lower half and her top had become pushed up during her struggles, exposing a slim sliver of pale skin.
Dennis closed the door quietly and moved silently to the bed. He hesitantly lowered himself until he was lying beside her. The bed was narrow and the two could barely fit, forcing him to press in close to avoid falling off. His hand rested at her waist and their legs tangled lightly.
Gradually, her breathing slowed and her face became calmer. His fingers gently stroked the bare flesh, feeling the raised scars that marred her otherwise perfect canvas. Anger and fear radiated off them and for a moment, in his mind’s eye, he saw her as she had been. Small, broken, bleeding. Desperately pressing something sharp and silver against her skin as tears ran down her cheeks.
He found himself exposed to something he hadn’t felt before. A warm feeling in the pit of his stomach that swelled whenever he looked down at the sleeping girl. He wasn’t sure what it was… some kind of kinship? He saw something in her that was more than just a knowledge of her purity or his desire for her. It was familiarity. She reminded him of himself… of Kevin. Sometimes he struggled to distinguish his memories from Kevin’s. He had been the first, the first splinter in Kevin’s mind and he had endured as much as the young boy had. They were barely two people then. But gradually, as Kevin had come to depend on him more, he had grown into something new. Those first months though… they were a blur, the two men’s pasts intersecting indiscriminately. Maybe that was why he felt this way around Casey. He knew her pain, he had felt it. They were one and the same.
In a way, she had as many different sides to her as the horde did, but none of them were real. Lying in the bed with her in his arms, he felt like he was finally getting a glimpse of who she really was.
You’re projecting Dennis
The voice wasn’t one of the others, it was his own thoughts. For once it wasn’t part of an internal conversation and he could actually think clearly. He tried not to want things. He’d never really had the opportunity, passed the occasional fleeting desire for a pretty girl. He’d been born to protect Kevin from his mother. And then, he was there to serve the Beast. Whenever he thought he might want something different or just… more than he had currently, Patricia would always sharply remind him of his duty. The Beast was the future of mankind but did that have to mean he couldn’t have a life outside of serving him?
He was jealous. And that was dangerous.
He knew that he should get up, walk out of the room and lock the door. He knew that if Patricia found out what he was doing or what he was feeling, she would be furious. But he just couldn’t bring himself to move.
One more moment won’t harm anyone.
One moment could change everything. One moment was the difference between life and death.
Reluctantly, he unwound his arm and got to his feet. He tucked the blankets carefully around the slumbering girl, smoothing them down to remove any ripples or creases in the fabric. At least she was still asleep, and seemingly calmer now.
Retreating from the room, he felt a sick churning sensation in his gut. Guilt. He hadn’t done anything, not really. But he still felt guilty. Once the door was locked securely, he sank onto his own bed. It was natural for him to feel that way about the girl. She was young and like Kevin, she had suffered. That was all. It was the same need to protect that had first caused him to emerge, of course it would dominate when he saw someone in such a similar state.
That was all.
His fingers drummed against the side of the bed as he stared up at the ceiling. It would get easier. Once the Beast came and laid claim. Once everything was in place and they weren’t in such restricted quarters. He told himself that over and over again but couldn’t quite make the words ring true.
Chapter 8: Seven
If you battle monsters, you don't always become a monster. But you aren't entirely human anymore, either ~ Jonathan Maberry
I don't usually do chapter notes but there's a few chapters coming up that I feel the need to warn people about. This is one of them. I know there's been references to Casey's self harm in past chapters but there is quite detailed conversations about that and child abuse in this chapter, so if that's likely to trigger you... please don't read on.
The next day when Casey woke up, she found her breakfast already waiting for her. There was a no sign of Patricia which was an unexpected relief but she could hear a faint hammering coming from somewhere on the other side of the door which she assumed was one of the identities at work.
As she collected her tray, she noticed that beneath it was a large square package wrapped in coloured paper and tied with a lavender ribbon. She frowned, wary of what might be inside. She assumed based on the wrapping that it had come from Patricia and was tempted to leave it.
Her curiosity got the better of her in the end and she carried it back to the bed with the breakfast tray. She ate her breakfast first before turning her focus to the package. She wasn't sure what to expect; Patricia was like a scorpion, everything about her came with a sting in its tail. Like the flowers and cards she'd sent to the hospital. There had been no point to that other than to incite fear. Casey could only imagine what gift she might consider appropriate now.
She cautiously unwrapped it, relieved and somewhat surprised to find a sketch book with a set of professional artist pencils. Huh. That was... unexpected.
Casey settled in to do some practice sketches but it was a struggle. Every time she tried to start, her mind flicked back to her last art class. It had been the day before the birthday party where everything had changed. Claire, Marcia, all the other girls, they had no idea how quickly everything was going to fall apart.
Letting her hands move without much thought, she began to sketch the two girls. Not as they’d been when she’d last seen them, but alive and thriving.
It took her some time to get the outline exactly right but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t capture any life in the eyes. They remained flat, empty, staring out at her with an accusatory look. Casey sighed and set down the sketchbook.
Outside the door, the hammering noise stopped and a few moments later she heard the key turning. Dennis stepped inside.
“Alright…” Dennis’ eyes flickered to the sketchbook and Casey bit her lip. “Thank you for this. I appreciate it.”
“How do you know it was me?”
“You’re the only one who knows about me drawing and… I guessed you just wanted a way that was less messy.”
“Something like that.” He shifted on his spot, looking almost uncomfortable at her attention. “Patricia and I have discussed it and now that your leg is better, you do not need to remain in the bed. During the day, your door will be unlocked and you can use the rest of the space. The only condition is that you have to come back in here at night. Understood?”
He turned to leave, seemingly desperate to distance himself from her but Casey called out after him.
“Hey… Dennis, can we… talk?”
He paused and looked back at her, eyebrow raised.
“About what exactly?”
“Anything. The longest conversations I’ve had since I came here have been with Hedwig and I would really like to talk with… I was going to say someone closer to my age, but I have no idea how old you are.”
Dennis let out a short barking laugh, an almost startling sound to come from his usually restrained face.
“I’m thirty two.”
“Well that’s a start. Can you tell me more about yourself? I really know nothing about you… any of you.” She moved into a cross legged position and gestured for him to sit. He hesitated but slowly approached the bed and seated himself opposite her, keeping his feet on the ground.
“What do you want to know?”
“What’s your… favourite animal?” she asked, picking something at random.
“Tigers. I always liked watching them. There’s something beautiful about them that I admire.”
“Well I should have guessed that,” she teased, nodding at his olive toned shirt. He gave her the briefest of smiles, relaxing slightly.
“What did you do before this? I’m assuming you weren’t always a…” she trailed off, struggling to find a word that wouldn’t come across as completely insulting.
“We worked as a sort of handyman at the zoo. Dr Fletcher helped get us the job.”
“Have there always been so many of you?”
“No, not always… there was just Kevin. And then when he was thirteen, his father died. And his mother was… unpleasant. It became necessary for… an intervention.” he paused. “I came first. She was fastidious about cleanliness. And it was easier if I took over to ensure that Kevin didn’t suffer.”
Casey’s mind was ticking away. She’d had an idea brewing for a few days now and it seemed like the best time to test it out. But she had to tread carefully. If she pushed too far too quickly, she could make things considerably worse.
“That makes sense. I have been thinking about all of you and… I mean it’s interesting. And I have nothing but time. I guessed you were all some kind of… protection mechanism for Kevin. But, I still don’t understand why there are so many of you. If your main reason for existing is to protect him… I think… only four of you really assist with that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you’re the clean one, like you said you developed as a response to his mother. And the Beast makes sense… he’s strong, he can physically protect him in a way that Kevin as a child wouldn’t have been able to. Hedwig, he’s the child that Kevin couldn’t be… that’s not really a protection thing but it still makes sense for him to be there. And then one who is… confident, charismatic. Someone to protect him socially.”
Casey wanted to yell out in victory. She’d been stabbing in the dark based on half theories and amateur psychology cobbled together from what she remembered of the brief encounters with the other alters. And it sounded like she’d hit her target. Now to push a little bit harder and see if she could craft an opportunity.
“Yes. But the ones I don’t understand are the others. Obviously I’ve not met them all, but some of them definitely seem like they’d do more harm than good. Like… Patricia.”
Dennis stiffened and his posture became more erect, expression darkening.
Casey considered her words carefully. She knew there was a chance that she could get Dennis on her side but it was a very risky move.
“She’s… a domineering woman who… is kind of a bitch. You developed to protect Kevin from his mother and now you’re working with someone who is probably fairly similar to her… but I’m not a psychiatrist…so, I’m probably talking nonsense.”
She could see that Dennis was thinking about what she’d said, mulling the words over. That was the best way to do it. Plant a seed of distrust and let it blossom on its own.
“Did you ever have any other jobs?”
“No… I was there for about ten years and before that I was just… drifting.” His distracted expression suddenly cleared and his eyes locked on Casey. “If I’m going to tell you more about myself, perhaps you should return the favour?”
Casey looked down at her lap, scratching at her wrist.
“Those scars… did you do those? Or… someone else?”
Casey considered lying. Although she had agreed to tell him things, she hadn’t expected him to choose that as a topic of conversation. She hadn’t told anyone about her uncle or her home life and she wasn’t even sure she could get the words out.
“Both…” she said quietly.
“Why did I do them? or why did he? Because I don’t know. Maybe because he could? I think part of him likes seeing me suffer. He likes knowing he has that power, to bring me pain and he didn’t want me to ever forget it. To forget that I… I belong to him. And in a way I always will. He will always have been the first. I could run to the ends of the earth and he would still be with me. It’s like a sickness or… a dirt I can never wash off. When I was younger, my father used to take me hunting. That’s how it started. Me, dad, him. He tried to make it a game. And then when my dad died, he… he liked that he could do whatever he wanted and no one knew… no one cared. But… I made the first cut.”
Casey lapsed into silence, one hand running along her arm to rub the pad of her fingers against the scars on her upper arms.
“He would come into my room at night. And even after he was gone, I could feel… I could feel him. His weight on me, the smell of his beer… and… and the pain… every time I thought it would get easier. I thought… I thought it would hurt less. But one night it was just… it was too much. I cut myself… I just wanted to feel something different. I didn’t care that it hurt, it was something that wasn’t him. The longer it went out, it felt like the… taint on me was spreading. No matter what I did it took over more and more. And I tried to block it out. I tried to ignore it but I couldn’t. And whenever it got too bad, the only thing I could do was hurt myself. Just to give myself five minutes where I felt human again.”
Tears ran down her cheeks, tears she hadn’t shed in years. She’d kept everything bottled up inside but now it was pouring out of her. In her mind she saw her room at home. She saw herself huddled on the bed, glassy eyes of toy animals watching her in judgement, pink sheets with a dark brown stain. Even years later, the stain still lingered on the mattress beneath in a permanent testimony to what had taken place there.
“I fought back once. I was fourteen. He broke my collarbone and my wrist. He took me to the hospital and I wanted to scream… beg someone to help me. I’d always felt like people could see what had happened, like there was this mark on me but they just didn’t want to pay attention and that really kind of confirmed it. They sent me back with him. After that… I shut down. No one was going to help me. No one cared. And he got more violent from then. I didn’t even care. It was better than feeling what he did to me every night. I could just… I hurt so much that it took over everything else. I would get into trouble at school so I didn’t have to go home. That would make him angry, make him lash out. Part of me… part of me wanted him to go too far. I hoped that one day he’d snap completely and kill me. At least then he couldn’t lie anymore.”
The two sat in silence together. Slowly, Dennis’ hand reached out and grasped hold of Casey’s. He didn’t say anything but gave a light squeeze, fingers locking with hers. There was more she wanted to say. The things she had always thought but never dared acknowledge for fear of them being confirmed. Was it her fault? Had she done something? The rational part of her brain knew that she hadn’t but since she was young, that bitter thought had gnawed at her, telling her that she deserved it. Family were supposed to care about you after all.
“Do you still… feel him, now?”
“Yes. Sometimes. When there’s nothing but emptiness… I try to keep my mind under control and keep myself from thinking about him. But the hours are… long and he always creeps back in. It’s worse at night. I see him in the shadows. I feel his eyes on me and sometimes I feel like he’s there, that his hands are on me and any second I’ll just be dragged back into that… hell. Screaming without being heard.”
“You’re not alone anymore Casey. I can hear you.”
Chapter 9: Eight
Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love ~ John le Carre
Something had changed. Neither of them said anything, afraid of what would happen if it were acknowledged, but both Casey and Dennis were aware of it. They tried to act the same. Casey stayed quiet and Dennis kept a safe distance most of the time, but there were moments when the two of them would find themselves sitting together and just briefly they’d share a smile, a look, a reassuring touch. The longer it went on, the more confused Dennis found himself. He’d been focused on Patricia’s plans for the future for so long the idea of doing anything else seemed strange and foreign to him. But some of the things that Casey had said he just couldn’t shake. They were stuck in his brain on a loop.
The two of them were sat in the living area. Casey was reading a book she’d found, half lying down on Hedwig’s bunk. Her legs were curled up around herself and her head rested on a pillow. She was wearing less layers than normal, another thing Dennis had noticed about their shifting relationship to one another. She seemed more comfortable with her scars on display than she had previously. He was seated on his own bed, folding some clothes. His eyes roamed over to Casey unconsciously and he couldn’t help smiling slightly at the sight of her. She looked almost entirely relaxed.
She’s adjusting. This is good news. Perhaps it’s time to begin preparations for the next stage.
Casey glanced up in time to see the flicker of expression across Dennis’ face. His brow furrowed and he blinked rapidly, looking down to his hands which he began to clench and unclench repeatedly.
Realising Casey was watching him, Dennis got up and strode into the bathroom. He shut the door firmly behind himself and faced his reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t think… I don’t think that this is a good idea.”
“This may be going too far. It doesn’t seem right.”
“They are not human Dennis, they are just food. Cattle for the Beast to slake his hunger with.”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about… Casey.” He looked away from the mirror. He had finally said it, finally voiced the doubts that had been building within him.
“Dennis, do not do this now… we are so close. Hold your nerve.”
“I can handle finding impure ones for the Beast but Casey’s part in it… this is too much. She’s like us. She has already suffered. Why are we making her endure more?”
“This is not to do her harm. The Beast will elevate her beyond what she is. She will be able to live without fear, she will stand tall and know that those who have hurt her will never be able to lay hands on her again. Surely that is better than wanting her to remain as she is?”
“The ends don’t always justify the means Patricia. I… we should stop. Before anyone else gets hurt.”
Patricia was silent for a moment and when she spoke, there was an ice to her voice that made every muscle in Dennis’ body clench with fear.
“Dennis, we do what we must to serve the Beast. We have no choice in this. I will not allow you to jeopardize everything we have worked for. If you do not stand with us, you stand against him and you will fall. Now, I think you would benefit from some time to reflect on your choices. Hedwig, please remove Dennis from the light.”
Dennis barely had time to register the words before he found himself being dragged back into the darkness of Kevin’s brain, once again trapped as nothing more than an observer.
In his place, Hedwig stood in the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and pulled a face at himself before exiting. He grinned when he saw Casey sitting on his bed.
“Hedwig? What happened to Dennis?” she asked, straightening up.
“Miss Patricia said Mr Dennis needed a time out to think things through. Etcetera.” He clambered onto the bed beside her. “What you reading?”
“Just some book I found. It’s not very interesting. How are you? I’ve not seen you in a while?”
“Well Miss Patricia and Mr Dennis said they were too busy for me to come out… but that’s not fair. I wanted to play with you. And they kept saying no. Like when I asked if I could go to the zoo again.”
“You miss it?”
“Yeah, really lots. I liked seeing all the animals at night when no one was around.”
Casey considered for a moment. She liked Hedwig. It was hard not to. She’d initially only tried to get close to him as a way out but seeing him so down tugged at her heart.
“I have an idea.”
It took ten minutes and the few stuffed animals Hedwig had managed to bring from his room, along with a creative use for some tights Casey found but she managed to turn her room into a makeshift zoo. When she led Hedwig in, his eyes lit up at the sight.
“You made me a zoo!”
“Yes. And it’s all yours. It’s not very big but there’s tigers and… snakes.”
She was thrilled that he genuinely liked it and watched happily as he ran around the room. Hedwig crouched on all fours and growled playfully. Her smile faltered slightly as an image of the animalistic beast crawling towards her forced itself on her mind.
“Ahh no! Scary!” she said, forcing a laugh.
“Grr! I’m going to eat you up!”
Casey squealed, letting him chase after her. Her leg was holding up, allowing for her to move at speed even if she couldn’t fully run yet. Hedwig pursued her and when she glanced back, for a moment she was back in the tunnel with the Beast bearing down on her. She stopped abruptly, allowing Hedwig to collide with her. They fell in a heap and Hedwig prodded her lightly in the ribs.
“Why’d you stop?”
“Sorry. For a moment I… I thought you were the Beast.”
“That’s silly. He’s much bigger than I am and much meaner.”
“I know. But you were so scary,” she told him, trying to lighten the mood a little. “And I am very scared of him.”
“You shouldn’t be. He likes you a lot. I don’t think he wants to do nasty things to you like he did with the other girls.”
“Do you know what he wants?”
“Uh huh. But I’m not supposed to say. Miss Patricia says it’ll upset you. But it’s good, I promise. I’m really excited for it.”
Casey lay there, looking up at the ceiling. Hedwig nudged her.
“Come on! You can’t be tired already. Get up!”
She batted him away but he persisted, poking and prodding at her until she was a squirming mess. Casey wrestled against him, in a half-hearted teasing manner and the two rolled across the floor, shrieking and yelling. Hedwig managed to pin her down and Casey was struck with just how strong he was. Sometimes it was hard for her to reconcile the person with the body and the hidden strength lying inside.
She’d thought it was only the Beast that was a real physical threat and if she got the opportunity, she could evade the others without injury. But feeling herself trapped beneath him, even if it was only in play, a more concrete sense of hopelessness settled on her.
He pinned her arms above her and cocked his head to the side.
“Even after what happens… we’ll still be friends right? You won’t leave me behind will you?” There was a hollowness to his voice and she wondered how many times he’d been let down or left behind in the past.
“I promise Hedwig. I won’t leave you, no matter what.”
It was many hours later when Dennis was finally allowed back into the light. He wasn’t sure if it was intentional or if Hedwig had let him sleep through accidentally but he opened his eyes to find himself lying on the boy’s bunk beside Casey. She was asleep, curled up, one hand gripping his top.
He smiled slightly to himself and extracted his clothing from her grasp. The open door to Casey’s room caught his eye and a piece of paper crumpled on the floor in the entrance way. He headed over and looked in, eyes widening at the mess that had been left behind. Paper and stuffed toys were strewn wildly. The blankets on the bed had been half dragged across the floor and a pair of Patricia’s tights stuffed with his socks were curled up in one corner.
“Bloody hell Hedwig… are you trying to kill me?”
Dennis started to tidy up, collecting the paper into a pile and setting them aside. He moved quickly and efficiently, pausing only to glance at the drawings of different animals on the paper.
As he lifted the blankets and settled them on top of the mattress, he became aware of a faint crackling sound. Frowning, he stopped. Everything went silent. Somewhat confused, he smoothed out the covers and once again heard the crackling. He pulled back the covers and pressed down on the mattress. It sounded like there was something tucked underneath.
He lifted up the mattress and reached underneath until his hand came into contact with some folded pieces of paper. He pulled them free, frowning. Drawings? But why would Casey hide those? He wanted to ignore them. It was an invasion of her already limited privacy. But he just couldn’t resist the curiosity. He tucked the paper into his pocket and continued with his tidying, unable to stop to look with the surroundings in such a state.
Only once he had finished tidying did he retrieve the paper from his pocket. He made his way back to the door and leaned against the frame, looking over at Casey still sleeping peacefully. This wasn’t right, he shouldn’t being looking at things she clearly didn’t want seen.
But he didn’t stop.
He unfolded the paper and ran his eyes over it. There page was covered in Casey’s neat scribble in livid pink pen. It was a list of seemingly random words and it was only when he looked at the other sheets that he began to realise what he was holding.
Matriarch, cold, fanatical, controlling. Perfectionist. Seems to be in charge, leads the plans around the Beast? Not an option.
Child. Impressionable, potentially an easy target. Lonely? Insecure, mentioned being teased. Play on this? Controls the light – friendship could lead to his assistance talking to the others? Risks – unpredictable, child mood swings and tantrums, could be accidentally provoked. Threat level minimal but important to tread carefully. Potentially best option.
Carnivorous, strong, resistant to bullets. Highly dangerous. No. No. No. Not even a chance.
Dennis paused. The last page was devoted to him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to read what she’d written. There was a churning feeling in the pit of his stomach. But at the same time, he needed to know.
Obsessive, cleanliness focused. Moderately perverted. Easily fixated. Reserved and quiet. Closed off but could play on desires? Will need further investigation. High risk level, strong and fast. Responsible for stalking and kidnapping victims. Predatory. Unsure if part of personality or circumstances but could cause serious harm if provoked. Fanatical towards the Beast but not the same extent as Patricia. Opportunity to put a wedge between the two may be the best way forward. Treat with caution.
Seems to be softening?
Dennis crumpled the paper in his grasp and stared at Casey with all the bitterness he felt. She had played him, that’s all she’d been doing from the start. How much of what she’d said had been a lie to garner his sympathy and push him away from Patricia?
He strode over and scooped her up in his arms, carrying her back to her room. He wanted to shout but all he did was set her on the bed. Hardening his heart, Dennis turned and left, locking the door behind him.
Chapter 10: Nine
We feel free when we escape - even if it be but from the frying pan to the fire ~ Eric Hoffer
Casey was woken by the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor, followed by a bang. She sat up, blinking in confusion. A second camp bed had been dragged into the room and Dennis was in the process of setting it up.
“What’s going on?” she asked, sleepily. He ignored her. “Dennis?”
“Rather busy at the moment Casey.”
She got out of bed and approached him, reaching out to touch his hand. He jerked back and rounded on her, face set into an impassive mask.
“Nothing. I’m just finally seeing things for how they are.” She looked confused so he ploughed on. “Oh and next time you decide to take notes on someone, maybe don’t hide them under your mattress.”
All the colour drained from Casey’s face.
“No. I don’t want to hear your lies. You’ve been trying to turn me against Patricia so you can try and get away. I should never have let myself trust you.”
He turned to go, Casey staring at him with an unreadable expression on her face.
“Of course I did. I’m sorry your feelings got hurt but did you really expect me to sit in here and wait for the two of you to turn me into some…” she trailed off, unable to say the words. “I never lied. All I said was things you needed to hear. And yes, my plan was to run. And yes, I may have hurt your feelings but this is not about you. I have been kidnapped. Chased. Savaged. I watched my friends get torn open. Why would I stay willingly? I said those things because they were true and because I couldn’t trust you to do the right thing on your own. I thought maybe there might be a good person in there who could see how fucked up this is. Guess I was wrong too.”
She stalked back to the bed and sat down, crossing her arms and glaring at the door. He stayed where he was, motionless, for a minute that seemed to stretch out forever. Then he snapped out of it and strode out of the room, returning a moment later with a figure in his arms. It was a girl with bright red hair, unconscious and limp. He set her down and looked over to Casey.
“The Beast will soon be on the move once again. Patricia says we must make preparations for your union.”
“Is that it? You’re completely okay with letting this happen?”
Dennis’ resolve wavered and he struggled to meet her eye.
“I have to do what is best for Kevin.”
“If you think turning him into a monster is the best way, then you’re further gone than I ever thought. I shouldn’t have let myself care… it won’t happen again.”
She lay down, rolling onto her side so her back was to him. He stood there for a moment, watching her silently. What could he do? What could he say? He knew it was childish but he was still smarting from what she’d written. It was stupid and irrational, deep down he knew that. After everything he’d done, of course she’d want to get away.
Dennis let himself out of the room and sat on his bed, head in his hands. All he’d ever wanted was to protect Kevin. He wasn’t a monster, he was just doing what needed to be done. He picked up a hoodie that had been discarded on his bed and sniffed it. It smelled of her.
This is the right thing Dennis. Casey will see that in time.
He didn’t respond, instead he began to fold and refold the hoodie, wishing everything else was as easy to smooth out.
It took half an hour for the girl to wake up and she did so with a frantic yell. Casey rolled over so that she was facing the other bed but didn’t say anything. The redhead hadn’t noticed her yet, too caught up, as well she might be, in the unfamiliar surroundings.
“Let me out!” she yelled, running to the door and pounding against the wood. “Let me out of here!”
Casey had a sense of déjà vu. How long had it been since Claire and Marcia had been trying the same thing?
“The door’s locked and there’s another one outside,” she said finally. The girl jumped and turned sharply.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“I’m Casey. As for where you are… you’re in a basement. I don’t know any more than that.”
The girl frowned, squinting at her.
“Hey… I know you. You were in the news… about that crazy guy at the zoo.”
“Yes… and crazy guy is the one who brought you here.”
“So you know how to get out, right? We can do what you did before?” Casey bit her lip, unsure of what to say. “Why are you just lying there? Get up, we can find a way out!”
“Look… last time I got very lucky. And that was only after two of my friends had died. This is a different place, different circumstances. I’ve been here a little while and I’ve not seen any way out yet.” Casey moved into a sitting position and the girl slumped against the door, demoralised by her words. “What do you remember?”
“I had just finished my shift at work and I was heading home. There was this man. He sprayed something in my face.”
“That’s Dennis. He got me too.”
“You know his name?”
“Like I said, I’ve been here a while. There’s three of them that you’ll probably see… and then… the fourth who comes at the end.”
“What do they want from us? Money? My family isn’t rich…”
“No, they don’t care about money. They’re… like a cult. They believe in this monstrous being who feeds on the ‘impure’… the ones who haven’t suffered.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” the girl groaned. Casey hesitantly got up and went over to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. She wasn’t good at the whole physical comfort thing but she understood how the girl felt and at least she’d had Marcia and Claire when it had happened to her.
“I won’t let it happen. We’ll find a way to get you out.” Her own words made her pause. She had meant to say ‘a way to get us out’ but… it hadn’t happened. It was like part of her had completely given up on any chance of her seeing the sun again. “And when you do, you can tell people what’s happened.”
“I promise. If I get out of here, I’ll send people back to get you.”
Casey did her best to keep the new girl calm. She introduced herself as Ruth and they talked about anything but their current situation. Casey's hunter brain kicked in automatically and she found herself silently assessing her new companion. Honestly it didn't look good for her... Without help, Ruth was basically dead already.
After a while, her stomach began to growl. She'd got used to eating at a certain time and couldn't switch off the ingrained behaviour. As if on cue, the key turned in the lock. The two girls scuttled away from the door as it swung open. Patricia entered, wearing a familiar cold smile.
Ruth stared and let out a short laugh.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s who you’re scared of? Some nutter in a dress? Bloody hell this is some Norman Bates shit.”
Patricia levelled her cold gaze on the new girl while Casey frantically signalled at her to just be quiet.
“Do we have a problem here?” Patricia asked, all traces of affability immediately stripped away. Ruth got to her feet, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Yeah… what the hell? You may have Casey terrified for whatever reason but I’m not about to be pushed around by some loser playing dress up. Go take your mommy issues elsewhere, psycho.”
Patricia moved faster than Casey had ever seen before, closing the space between herself and the girl. She grabbed Ruth by the hair and struck her hard across the face. It was the first time Casey had ever seen her use actual violence and her entire body went rigid.
The blow was enough to knock Ruth down and she sat there, dazed as Patricia turned to look at Casey.
“Your new roommate appears to have a serious lack of manners Casey. I would recommend you fully explain to her the consequences of misbehaviour.”
Patricia left and Casey went over to Ruth.
“You should just stay quiet.”
“I’m not going to hang around to be killed by a nerd in drag”
“And calling her names is going to help? Look, this whole situation is complicated. They’ve got this… condition. DID? Multiple personalities, have you heard of that?”
“Yeah, in terrible horror movies.”
“Well they actually have it and there’s like 20 different personalities living inside that one body. But there’s only three that are ever around… and I know it sounds crazy but they can do things. I’ve seen them bend metal bars and get shot in the chest without stopping.” Casey looked over the girl and she came to the conclusion that she would die without help. Even without the Beast, if she carried on being destructive, chances are Patricia would get sick of her and do something drastic. “I may have a way to get you out but it’s going to be dangerous and you have to do exactly what I say.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t a way out?”
“It’s not so much an actual way out, more an opportunity for escape. Are you a fast runner?”
“I can be.”
“Well good. Because he is fast and all I can do is buy you some time.”
“What do I need to do?”
“When the right one comes in, I’ll make a distraction. You run for the door. They usually leave the door open when they come in, and the key in the lock. Run, pull the door closed, lock it. I’ll try to keep him in here for as long as I can. Once you’re out, I can’t do anything else.”
“How will I know when to go?”
“Trust me, you’ll know.”
All they could do was wait. Casey sat cross legged on the floor by her bed, psyching herself up for what she had to do. The survivalist part of her was screaming that she was being an idiot, that she was giving up the closest thing to a plan she had. It’s okay, she told herself, if Ruth gets away then she can get help. And if she doesn’t…
Then you’ve given up the only card you had.
She was waiting for the right identity to come in. Patricia was a no go and Hedwig, although the easiest to distract, was the one with the shortest attention span so once again, her target fell on Dennis.
If he ever came in.
When the door did open once again, Casey’s breathing hitched. Hedwig poked his head in and Ruth glanced at Casey, looking for confirmation. Casey shook her head minutely.
“Hi Casey. Hi other girl.”
“This is Ruth.
Hedwig gave a half-hearted wave in her direction. He seemed sad and for a moment Casey was distracted from her plans.
“Casey were you mean to Mr Dennis?”
“Not… not intentionally.”
“Cause now he’s being really mad and he won’t talk to us. You shouldn’t be mean to people, it’s not nice.”
“Hedwig, I didn’t mean to upset him. It was an accident. And I want to say sorry but I can’t until he comes out. If you can convince him to come see me, I will apologise… I really want to.”
Hedwig screwed up his face, thinking deeply. He nodded and immediately retreated from the doorway, no doubt going to force Dennis into the light. Ruth waited until the door was closed before speaking.
“You have to admit that’s a bit creepy.”
“You get used to him.”
“Who’s Mr Dennis and what did you do to him?”
“He looked to be my best shot at getting out… so I was being nice to him. I think he thought that there was more to it.”
“What an idiot.”
Casey didn’t answer. She didn’t regret her attempt, after all she wasn’t going to sit and wait for the horde’s plan to come into action, but she did feel guilty that he had got hurt. He wasn’t a bad person, just a misguided one.
Well, he’s really going to hate you soon…
The door opened again and, as Casey had expected, Dennis was stood there. His posture and expression was almost identical to how it had been the first time he’d entered the old basement.
“What is it Casey? I’m busy.”
Casey steeled herself and went over to him. She touched his hand and he immediately pulled back.
“I… I wanted to apologise. I’m sorry… I don’t regret what I said earlier but I could have been nicer about it. I wanted to get out because I was terrified of what was going to happen. But… I should have trusted you. You were looking out for me and I took advantage of that. And I am really sorry that I hurt your feeling.”
He looked down at her and she could see the pain in his eyes.
“I don’t know if I can believe you anymore.”
“I understand. And I know I don’t deserve it, but if you could please forgive me…”
Her eyes flickered to Ruth, waiting in position and she knew this was her only chance to make her move. She rose onto her tiptoes and threw her arms around his neck, pressing her lips against his. At first he remained stiff but slowly one hand came to rest at the small of her back.
She saw the flash of red hair as Ruth sprinted for the door followed by the bang as it closed. Dennis made to pull back but she held on tight, moving her mouth to brush up against his cheek.
“Forgive me…” she whispered in his ear. “Kevin Wendall Crumb.”
Chapter 11: Ten
Blood alone moves the wheels of history ~ Martin Luther
Dennis pulled back sharply and he glared at Casey with such venom, she took a step back. He clasped his head, letting out a strangled groan. The veins in his neck bulged out in a disturbing manner as Dennis doubled over. He stayed like that for what seemed like an age and Casey was momentarily worried summoning Kevin might have been too much for the body. Then he snapped up violently, body contorting for a time before slumping once again.
He was breathing heavily, hands shaking wildly, and his eyes found Casey.
“What happened…? H… how long has it been?”
“A month or so? Look, Kevin, I’m sorry… I didn’t want to bring you back but I had no choice. The… the Horde… the Beast, they’re… they’re out of control and they’re hurting people… I know the others will take over in a minute, is there anything you can do to hold them all off? A girl’s life depends on it.”
“No… I’m not strong enough. They have more control of me than I do of them…”
Casey bit her lip and nodded. She had expected as much but it was still disappointing to hear.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry that you got dragged into all of this,” Kevin told her. “I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
“I know. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I couldn’t end it for you. I tried.”
Kevin reached over and pulled her in for a hug. The two of them embraced, the gesture one of solace and regret. Then Kevin’s eyes appeared to roll back into his head and a moment later his posture changed to be more upright, instantly exuding confidence.
“Oh baby girl… why is it always you who gets caught up in our mess?” he said, placing a hand on her cheek.
“We’re trying to keep the Horde from the light but they’re coming… and they’re bringing the Beast with them. Is the door locked?”
“Ruth locked it. I know it won’t keep him in, but it might give her another minute.”
“Move the beds in front. Anything to buy her time.”
Casey nodded and seized one end of a bed, dragging it over to the door. Barry helped, lifting up the other end. They stacked them as best they could. She could see the strain in his body even though he tried to hide it and she wondered just how hard he was having to work to keep the Beast at bay.
“You can’t get out but you should hide in the bathroom so he doesn’t hurt you,” Barry told her.
“I can’t do that. He won’t hurt me… I don’t think. And… if I can distract him, she might get away.”
Barry looked at her and he gave a sad smile.
“You are a very brave girl.” He opened his mouth to say something else but the words died in his throat, coming out as a low moan.
Barry fell to the floor, heaving and emitting unnatural sounds. He braced himself against the ground, fingers curling back and forth. His breathing was laboured and as Casey watched in horrified fascination, his muscles bulged and his back arched. The veins along his arms rose against the skin. With one hand, he tore at his shirt, letting out a roar as he easily shredded the fabric. Casey wanted to run. She regretted her choice to face him, even if it did help Ruth escape. Every nightmare she’d had since that first night came flooding into her scattered mind and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in terror.
The noises stopped and slowly the Beast rose. His eyes were closed and he took a moment to stretch his limbs, relishing in the sensations afforded him. Casey silently backed herself against a wall, trying to keep her trembling hands under control.
His eyes opened and they swept the room, coming to rest on Casey. He cocked his head slowly to the side, a smile spreading across his face. He prowled towards her, coming to stop with a mere inch between them. Casey stiffened as he leaned in, feeling his warm breath on her throat. He skimmed his nose across the curve of her neck, inhaling deeply.
A noise escaped her, not quite a gasp, not quite a yelp but somewhere in between. The Beast let out a dark chuckle, clearly enjoying the response he had garnered from her. Her scent intoxicated him and for a moment, all he could think of was consuming the tiny girl. He wanted her with a hunger that surpassed any blood lust.
“Our time has not yet come,” he purred into her ear. He pressed himself against her, arms caging her in tightly. “Soon. Soon you will be at my side.”
His tongue darted out, licking across her cheek and making her recoil in disgust. She tried to turn her head but that only encouraged him to nuzzle deeper into the crook of her neck.
He let out a soft growl as his teeth grazed her skin and then he pulled back. Casey’s legs gave way and she collapsed to the floor as the Beast turned to the blocked door. He seized hold of the beds, one in each hand, and hurled them to opposite sides of the room. One shattered against the wall near Casey and she flinched. All plans to distract him had fled from her mind as she curled up in a foetal position, arms clamped over her head, covering her ears. She screwed her eyes shut and tried to block on the noise as the Beast tore his way out of the room.
The door was ripped from the frame and reduced to splinters in moments. The Beast surged out, dropping to all fours and bounding through the room beyond. The door on the other side was already open, Ruth having not stopped to secure it. Beyond were blank corridors, clusters of pipes winding snakelike along the ceiling. The Beast paused, listening. He could hear the sound of frantic footsteps somewhere not far off and he gave chase, relishing in the hunt.
The sound led him to a staircase leading up out of the basement. He ignored the steps, instead climbing up the wall. With every moment he could hear the other girl, the impure one, get closer. She had no idea how near he was. He could smell her perspiration, hear the beat of her heart as she raced up. The Beast licked his lips. His eyes spotted a metal box on one wall and a devilish smile formed.
Ruth reached the next floor. There were more stairs leading further up but instead she turned down a corridor that she hoped would lead her to an exit. From below she heard a loud bang and then the lights went out, plunging her into darkness. She froze. The corridor stretched out ahead, desolate and foreboding. The darkness made it harder for her to think, every shape could be that psycho waiting to leap out at her. She hadn’t believed Casey’s stories about the carnivorous Beast she claimed inhabited the mind of her captor but in the ever thickening blackness, the tales became much more real.
She didn’t run, worried that she would find herself face to face with the monster lurking in the darkness. Instead she walked briskly. The corridor seemed to stretch on endlessly and when it did finally stop, it split into two identical paths. Despair began to set in. Was she doomed to wander endlessly until she was caught? No… there had to be a way out somewhere. Buildings didn’t go on forever.
Close behind, the Beast stalked Ruth through the darkness. He had taken to the ceiling and crept after her. He was hungry and the desire to tear into her flesh was building but the thrill of the chase was something he wanted to enjoy. The darkness only heightened his pleasure, knowing that as she stumbled along blind, he retained near perfect vision.
She rounded a corner and paused. Up ahead she could see a sliver of reddish light, filtering in from some unknown source. Her heart skipped a beat and excitement flooded through her veins. She quickened her pace, hurrying towards it as though afraid it would disappear if she wasn’t fast enough.
As she neared she realised what she was seeing. A red EXIT sign, still illuminated. Below the sign was a fire exit.
Ruth ran for the exit. If she had paused to glance back, she would have seen the Beast drop from the ceiling into a crouch on the floor. He paused, balanced on the balls of his feet. Ruth reached the door and pressed down the bar. Cool night air flooded into the corridor as the door swung open to reveal an empty street.
She stepped forward but at the last moment a sound caught her ear and she turned reflexively. The pause was all it took. She barely had time to register the Beast’s presence before he had seized hold of her ankle, pulling her legs out from under her. Ruth fell to the ground and was dragged back into the darkness. The door swung shut.
Ruth screamed but it was no use. There was a loud snap as he broke her ankle, hobbling her and removing any chances of escape. Then a searing pain ripped through her stomach as the Beast sank his teeth into her flesh. He tore into her savagely, movements frenzied and wild. He shredded her skin, lacerating her helpless body until he had exposed her innards. Ruth felt everything. The pain was worse than anything she’d felt and in the dim light of the exit sign, all she could see was his ghoulish grin and wide eyes as he feasted. Everything was stained red and it was impossible to tell if it was from the blood or the light. Her screams were reduced to whimpers and all through the corridor, the sound of chewing and animalistic grunts could be heard.
The Beast was in ecstasy, savouring every strip of impure flesh he wrenched free. He harvested the soft fatty tissues of her stomach, leaving the treasures inside for later. He could hear her ragged breathing, her eyes staring up at the ceiling. The heart would be last and he was already itching to yank open her ribcage and expose that delicacy but he paced himself. Blood ran down his chin, saliva hung from his teeth and he revelled in it.
She felt herself being eaten alive and could do nothing but cry and wish for an end. The Beast shifted position, his head almost completely buried in the mix of entrails and blood he had exposed. His hand rested on her throat, supporting himself. The pressure was too much and her windpipe gave way. Blood flooded Ruth’s mouth, hot and bitter.
She died choking on it as the monster continued to feast.
Chapter 12: Eleven
Marriage is good for those who are afraid to sleep alone at night ~ St. Jerome
Casey stayed in the wrecked room for an unknown amount of time. The lights had gone out and all she could do was wait. The thought of taking advantage of the torn down door and attempting her own escape only briefly crossed her mind, before quickly being quashed by the thoughts of the Beast roaming the halls.
When she heard footsteps approaching, she stiffened as she waited to see who would enter the room. They entered and she almost cried out in relief as she recognised the gait and posture of Patricia. Her chin was thick with blood, running down her throat. She’d paused to grab a shawl to cover her bare chest but it just made her look stranger.
She didn’t speak, just eyed Casey with cool indifference and gestured for her to get up. Casey obeyed and Patricia led her over to the bathroom. Once Casey was inside, the door was shut firmly and locked, leaving her in total darkness. It was icy cold in the bathroom and she curled up in the bath tub, hugging herself for warmth.
Casey expected that she’d be left until the door was repaired and then be returned to the main room. But as time passed and she was left with nothing but her own thoughts, she began to realise just how much she’d screwed up. Ruth was dead. No one was coming. Dennis hated her. Hedwig was probably close behind. Patricia was furious. It had been for nothing.
One thought kept coming to mind. It was going to happen soon. Her leg was almost healed and Patricia had said after that… for a moment Casey considered causing more damage to her limb just to buy herself some time but then… what was the point? She’d tried. She’d failed.
They left her in there for the next few days. No contact, no food, just darkness and silence. The floor was uncomfortable, the bath only slightly less so. The room only seemed to grow colder with every moment. It didn’t take long for her to get the message. Don’t try again.
It had been Patricia’s decision to let Casey go hungry and remain in isolation. The girl could use a dose of reality and a reminder that actions had consequences. Patricia did blame herself a little for what had transpired. She should never have allowed Dennis to go unchecked or let his relationship with Casey get to such extreme levels.
She had once again order Dennis to the darkness and told Hedwig to keep him there while she prepared everything. She had wanted to trust him, but it was best if he stayed out of the way until things were finalised.
Now that Casey’s leg had healed sufficiently, leaving behind a new scar for her collection, things could progress. She had hoped to present the Beast with the offering of sacred food on the same night but he seemed pleased enough with the great undertaking that she allowed herself the rare luxury of letting it slide.
She only had a few tasks left to do before the ceremony and once those were complete, she had to prepare the offering. As she left the building, she felt a rush of excitement. After so long planning, to be so close to the end exhilarated her.
Patricia was under no illusions that Casey would go quietly. The girl was ridiculously stubborn when it came to the gift she was being given. It was really rather frustrating how ungrateful she was being. In her place, Patricia would have welcomed the Beast with open arms and be proud of the role she had to play. Still, after the ceremony, the girl would see things differently. One way or another.
When the door to the bathroom opened, Casey let out a soft groan. The room beyond was lit with flickering candle light which made Patricia seem taller and more menacing than normal.
“It’s time to prepare you for the ascension,” the woman told her. Casey didn’t speak, just staggered to her feet, pressing herself against the far wall.
Patricia switched on the taps and as the bath began to fill, she set candles around the room. The shadows danced eerily across the walls, mocking the helpless girl.
“There’s no need to look so nervous. Tonight is a great night. Tomorrow, this will all seem like a bad dream.”
Casey looked at her feet, shifting nervously on the spot. Her stomach was twisting into knots and she felt that if she opened her mouth she would vomit. A bad dream… that was what it was. A nightmare she was stuck in and all she wanted was to wake up.
Patricia produced a small vial from her pocket and tipped the contents into the bath, reaching down to swirl the solution through the water.
“Doesn’t that smell nice? It’s jasmine oil. I bought it specially to help you relax.”
Patricia gestured for her to undress and get in the bath. Casey considered arguing but she knew it wouldn’t do any good. Patricia was on a mission. Nothing was going to stop her vision of the evening. She undressed silently and climbed into the bath. The water was almost scalding hot but she didn’t speak as it stung her skin.
Casey sat there, knees against her chest and arms wrapped tight around them. Patricia began to wash her hair, humming softly as she did so. Everything felt far away, like she was floating high above, untouched by anything. In any other circumstances, the quiet humming, the warm water, the gentle flickering of the candles would have created a calming atmosphere but all Casey could think about was what was to come. It had never been said. Patricia wouldn’t confirm it and Casey dared not say it aloud, desperately hoping she was wrong.
“Head back,” Patricia told her. “We don’t want you getting soap in your eyes.”
Casey did as she was told, staring blankly at the ceiling as water was sluiced down her back. Her hair felt heavy, the weight pulling her back down to earth.
“Did your mother ever do this for you?” Patricia asked, picking up a brush and starting to work out the tangles in Casey’s hair.
“She died when I was young. My dad raised me… we kept my hair short…”
“Well that explains a great deal. You poor child, no mother to care for you.”
“I was fine. My dad was all I needed.”
“Every child needs a mother.” Casey stayed silent. “You know, I always wanted a child of my own.”
“You’ve got Hedwig…”
“Yes, he is a sweet boy. But really, I would have loved a daughter. Fate unfortunately had other plans. It is one of my only regrets. Helping you with this means a great deal to me.”
In response, Casey made a noncommittal noise. Patricia, perhaps deciding her tactics weren’t working, got up and fetched a towel for her.
“Out you get. We have to get you ready.”
Casey rose from the bath, allowing the woman to wrap the towel around her. Patricia lingered, arms embracing the younger girl for a moment longer than necessary. Their eyes met and Casey searched for some sign that the woman might not go through with this madness. Some spark of humanity.
But there was nothing.
She made to put on her clothes but they were whisked away sharply.
“Oh no. Not those. Tonight is a special night, you need a special outfit,” Patricia said, taking her hand. “I read once that when Marie Antionette crossed the border from Austria to France, she was made to leave behind everything of her home before she stepped onto the French soil. That always resonated with me. Surrendering self for the promise of another.”
“Maybe if she hadn’t surrendered herself, her head would have remained on her shoulders…” Casey muttered.
Patricia either didn’t hear or opted not to respond, as she released the girl and went to retrieve something from her bunk. Casey took the opportunity to take in the changes to her former room. The furniture had been swept away, along with the wreckage of the door. Candles had been dotted around, sealed in place with melted wax. Against one wall, pillows and blankets had been piled into a makeshift bed. The door hadn’t been replaced and the bitter voice in the back of her brain immediately pointed out that that meant He could get in at any time.
“I’m going to die tonight…” Casey said quietly. Even if she lived, she knew the her that she had always been would cease to exist.
“Only a little,” Patricia said from the doorway. “But it will be worth it.”
She handed the girl a nightdress made of ivory silk, which left her arms and most of her legs exposed. Casey fidgeted, tugging at the hem in an effort to cover herself just a little more.
The final thing to attend to was her damp hair. Patricia had bought flowers and she led Casey to her bunk where she began to carefully braid them through the dark strands. She had chosen them with great care and took her time alternating types to create a pattern through the girl’s hair. Calla lilies, white carnations and daisies, with extras set aside for a bouquet.
“There. I think you’re ready now. I suppose we should be on our way.”
“Where are we going?”
Patricia placed a gentle but restraining hand on Casey’s shoulder and guided her from the room. The two of them walked in a sombre procession down the dark hallways. Casey kept her eyes on her bare feet, noting with a pang of guilt patches of faded brown staining the white tiles. She could only imagine what must have happened to poor Ruth to leave them behind.
When they reached the exit, they stopped and Patricia retrieved a slip of thick fabric which she fastened over Casey’s eyes, being careful not to disturb the flowers in her hair. Casey understood why. If something went wrong and she managed to escape, Patricia didn’t want her to be able to lead the authorities back to the Horde.
She felt it as they stepped outside, the sudden bite of icy wind. It had been so long since she’d felt anything but stagnant basement air. Now beneath her feet she felt the crunch and sting of snow. In her barely there dress, she shivered, goosebumps immediately rising along her skin.
The walked in silence, Patricia steering her. She tried to pick up on sounds or smells that might provide a hint as to where they were but the streets were strangely silent. Through the fabric she could see the faintest glow of multi-coloured lights. Was it Christmas? How long had she been gone?
It didn’t take much time for them to reach the train yard. It was deserted, Patricia having scouted the location and chosen the perfect time. The ground became rougher underfoot as they crossed from pavement to the mix of debris that were scattered through the yard.
“Kneel down. Place your hands in front of you as a sign of contrition.”
Casey reluctantly sank to her knees, hands taking a praying position. Patricia put the bouquet in her hands and tied her wrists together, before removing the coverings on her eyes.
“Tonight is a sacred night. Tonight you surrender yourself to the Beast and accept him as your God, your Master and forsake all others.” Patricia stooped and kissed her on the forehead. “Goodbye Casey. When this is over, you’ll see that it is for the best.”
She turned and strode away, disappearing into the darkness.
Chapter 13: Twelve
Man produces evil as a bee produces honey ~ William Golding
Hi everyone. Probably saw this coming but just in case Trigger Warning (Rape).
Sorry for the delay in getting the chapter out... it was kind of hard to write.
I'm not sure when the next one will be up, but i'll try and get it done by the end of the week. In the meantime, if you're enjoying my work, I'm a published author so you can always check out my non-fan works.
Thanks for all your nice messages about this story. I honestly didn't think anyone would care to read it.
The train yard stretched around Casey. A small amount of light from a distant street lamp shone through the surrounding fence, casting shadows that made her feel like she was in a cage. The snow had started falling again, swirling around her as the wind howled mournfully. Her cheeks were stained pink from the bite of the cold air, her bare skin mottled and covered in goosebumps.
Casey weighed her options. Run, hide, shout. If she ran, she could maybe get to safety. But she was in a strange place with minimal lighting, obstacles everywhere and soon there would be a homicidal monster pursuing her. Hiding was a possibility. The long shadows and large objects meant there were plenty of places to hide… but if the Beast found her, she’d be screwed. And she had no idea how good his sense of smell was. Shouting… well, there was no one around and even if someone did hear, that would just put them in danger.
Maybe if she was contrite, he’d let her go? It was a vain hope.
From somewhere nearby, came a shrieking metallic groan followed by the crash of metal against metal as something heavy was thrown. A loud roar reverberated across the yard, the sound making Casey flinch. She squinted into the shadows and could dimly make out a hulking shape advancing on her. As he moved closer, she was able to make out more features. He was naked, breathing heavily but seemingly unaffected by the snow. He was already hard and his lip was curled into a smirk as he eyed her.
The Beast stopped a few feet away, stood between two train carriages. His gaze was fixed on her, hungry and restless, but he didn’t move closer. Every muscle in him was tensed and Casey realised that he was waiting for her to run. He wanted her to flee so that he could chase her down, another added thrill for him. Casey didn’t move. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She knew she couldn’t outrun him. Jutting her chin out in the only act of defiance she had available, she closed her eyes. She wished that it was all just a bad dream and when she opened them, she’d be tucked up somewhere safe.
He dropped to all fours and prowled forward until she could feel his warm fetid breath on her face.
“Open your eyes…” he purred in her ear.
“No…” she whispered.
He snarled and roughly knocked her backwards. Her eyes flew open automatically, staring up at the starless sky. The Beast crawled over her so his face was looming down. He sniffed her, eyes never leaving hers.
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes.” There was no point in lying. Her fear was written across her face, her heart pounding so furiously she was sure he could hear it. Her answer seemed to please him. He lowered his head to the crook of her neck and bit down, not hard enough to draw blood but enough to elicit a yelp from Casey. His hands pawed at her bare flesh, eagerly pushing up the silk fabric that dared hide her from him.
The cold air had a peculiar effect on Casey. The chill transformed slowly into a warm haze around her accompanied by a feeling of numbness that left her somehow separate from her body. It was like she was floating and for a moment she could see herself from above, see her fragile frame almost completely obscured by the mass of the Beast. And then she saw herself as she had been, as a child before her father died. Her younger self was stood watching the scene play out, gun in her hand. Their eyes met and a silent message passed between them in that single look of disappointment.
Are you really going to give up?
She thought of when she had pulled a gun on her uncle, how determined she’d been. She was a child and she’d fought back, now she was just surrendering?
Casey forced herself back to reality. The Beast’s weight was pressing down on her as he continued to nip and suck at her throat before working up to her mouth. He forced his tongue through her resistant lips and she bit down hard. At the same time, she brought her knee up sharply to ram into his groin. She was under no illusions, she knew the chances that it would actually harm him were minimal but maybe it would distract him.
The Beast reared back with a furious roar, spitting out blood. Casey tried to squirm out from underneath but he had trapped her legs beneath him. Casting around wildly, she used the only weapon she had. Her hand flew through the air, raking her nails across his face before shoving her weight against him. The attack wasn’t particularly bad but he wasn’t expecting the resistance and was knocked back, off balance. Casey jumped up, making to run but he seized hold of her ankle before she had made it more than two steps. She crashed back down to the floor and the Beast trapped her underneath him once more.
He licked his bloody lips and let out a terrifying chuckle. Rough hands seized hold of her, fingers entwining with the fabric of her night gown. He pulled and she heard the rip as the silk disintegrated, leaving her naked under his ravenous stare.
His hands went to her waist and for a moment his weight lifted from her legs. Before she could react, he had flipped her onto her stomach. The smell of snow and dirt reached her nostrils as he pushed her down beneath him. The burn of the ice on her stomach and chest made her whimper, shards of broken glass and bent metal cutting into her. The Beast place a hand on the back of her neck while the other gripped her waist. Casey bit into her lip, knowing what was to come, helpless to stop it.
The Beast entered her aggressively. He let out a howl of delight, muffling Casey’s own broken cry. His fingers kneaded her waist like dough, leaving livid purple bruises in their wake. The hand on her neck moved to tangle into her hair, tugging her head up so her face was exposed to the elements. Tears streamed down her cheeks as he thrust into her wildly, mating her like an animal in heat. Casey stared vacantly into the distance, any spirit that remained after years with her uncle crushed under the hands of the monster.
Nails wrote deep red letters of the places he touched, bite marks circled spots across her shoulders and neck in a cruel parody of affection. He tore into her, not caring about anything but the lust inside of him. Casey felt like she was suffocating. Even when his weight wasn’t pressing down on her, no air seemed to reach her lungs. She wanted to drift away but each painful yank at her hair, each bite, each growl, scratch, thrust, bound her to reality in the most agonising ways.
The assault went on for what felt like hours. After a time, the Beast lifted her up and carried her into one of the empty trains. She thought that would be the end but he soon continued. Eventually her body couldn’t take anymore and Casey passed out, welcoming the temporary reprieve from her ordeal.
When she came round, it was morning. The two of them were stretched across a row of seats, the Beast’s body curled around hers, trapping her between it and the seatbacks. Every part of her hurt. Her lower half was mottled with bruises, a tapestry of colours that told of the night’s events in a way words never could. Dried blood stained her fair skin and had turned the ends of her hair into rigid clumps.
She tried to move, just a little, but was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of torturous pain that threatened to plunge her back into oblivion. Casey whimpered, the sound stirring something in the slumbering Beast, causing him to wrap his arm tighter around her. She buried her face into the fabric of the chairs and cried softly to herself.
Slowly, the regular breathing of the Beast quietened and he stretched, legs rubbing against hers. He nuzzled against her, purring quietly.
“My beautiful mate… you did well. You wear your wounds like a warrior.”
“Please…” Casey whispered, voice muffled. “Please let me go. Please don’t do that again…”
He tugged lightly at her arm, pulling her away from the seatbacks so that her face was visible. She refused to meet his eye, looking anywhere but at him.
“Don’t hide yourself. Let me see.”
He wanted to see her tears? Was this some kind of sick thrill to him?
Casey forced herself to look at him, letting him see her tear stained cheeks and bloodshot eyes. She tried to put on a defiant expression but it only made her cry harder. The Beast watched, head cocked slightly to the side. He brushed his thumb across her cheek, gathering the moisture before bringing it to his lips and tasting it.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because you raped me!” Casey spat out.
“Your body belongs to me. You belong with me. We’re the same,” he said simply, as though that was reason enough for her not to cry.
Casey closed her eyes and turned her head away once more. She hoped that would be the end of it, that she’d be returned back to the basement where her biggest threat was Patricia… she never thought she’d want to be there.
The Beast had other plans. He moved into a crouch over her, the movement making Casey flinch as she feared another assault. Instead, he lowered his mouth to her bloody body and began to carefully lap up the blood, licking until every trace was gone. The action repulsed Casey but at the same time there was something oddly tender about the gesture. It reminded her of how cats would lick one another clean. She knew the Beast wasn’t human but she’d never realised just how much of him was animal before.
Once he had sufficiently cleaned her, the Beast got to his feet, lifting her in his arms. He cradled her against his chest, her head resting against the scar from where she had shot him.
The pair left the train and stepped out into the yard. The snow had been falling all night and there was little sign of what had transpired. Only a scrap of silk, edged with decorative lace, poking from beneath the snow gave any clue as to the night’s events. The Beast sniffed at the air. The scent was there. Faint but unmistakable. The scent of his mate, the smell of her sweat and blood mingled with his own lingering musk.
In his arms, the girl trembled as the wind agitated her sore body. He smiled to himself. She would soon realise how perfect they were for one another. And when her belly swelled with his young, they would bring a new generation of pure beings into the world.
He set off, carrying the girl with him. She had fallen still, asleep or feigning unconsciousness. The roads were empty, still too early for any commuters, and he moved swiftly, aware of the damage the icy environment was doing to her. She wasn’t used to the cold like him but she would get better. He had so much to teach her.
Once they reached the basement, he settled her into the nest of blankets. The candles had burned out but he could see perfectly. Casey burrowed down into the warmth, wincing. He surveyed her with pride. She would make a fine mate to him. He had suspected it from their first encounter, when she had stood before him, scars marring her seemingly untouched body, gun in hand. She was strong, she would survive.
Satisfied that she was warm and safe, the Beast turned and bounded away in search of a different kind of prey.
Chapter 14: Thirteen
Catch on fire and people will come from miles to see you burn ~ John Wesley
Okay, so i read some of the comments and felt incredibly bad. I didn't intend to go quite that dark when I set out and I greatly apologise if it upset anyone.
As penance, i decided to write the following chapter now (at 2am) instead of waiting.
Days swirled around Casey in a nonsensical haze. She didn’t move. She didn’t eat. She just lay there, crying until she had no more tears.
The Beast, seemingly sated for a time, had left her alone and the other alters had returned to the forefront. Patricia and Dennis switched between watching her. She wasn’t sure which was worse. Patricia spent most of her time gushing about the great privilege Casey had been granted and Dennis just sat in silence, watching her. She ignored them both but the feelings they provoked inside of her were too strong to do the same.
It had been a week or so, she wasn’t sure, and Dennis was babysitting her. Casey tried not to look at him, the stabbing betrayal she felt too much to handle. She knew that he’d supported Patricia but she’d never expected he would actually allow it to happen… she’d hoped he was different deep down.
I hope you’re happy with yourself.
Dennis, seated on his bunk, stiffened. The other alters had been oddly quiet since… the incident. Even Hedwig had stopped his usual incessant chatter. Now, after days in the dark, Barry had resurfaced.
I didn’t do anything.
No, of course not. You just let a monster violate a young girl… nothing wrong with that.
It wasn’t always easy for the alters to fully express their emotions when they weren’t in the light but the sarcasm and roiling anger in Barry’s words was undeniable.
What was I meant to do? Patricia had me banned from the light.
Never stopped you before.
Well why should I help her anyway? She lied to me.
Even as he thought the words, Dennis found it hard to summon the outrage he’d felt previously.
Oh grow the fuck up!
Jade had chimed in, her words seething.
Jade is right. What kind of nonsense is that? She lied to you? Oh, of course, that totally justifies letting her be raped by a psychopath. She may have lied to you and may have hurt your precious feelings but do you know what? She did the right thing. She is a kidnap victim. You kidnapped her. And she did what anyone would have done in that situation.
Hell, I’d have stabbed you with the first sharp thing I could find…
Do you know why she lied to you? Why she tried to manipulate you into helping her? Because she thought there was something good in you. She thought that you might do the right thing with a little push. And you just proved that you are irredeemable.
Patricia was the one who took her… it was her idea…
Did we imagine you helping her?
There is no but. Look at Casey. Look at her and really see her.
Dennis was reluctant but he turned his gaze on the young girl. She was barely visible beneath the pile of blankets. Her hair was lank and greasy, her eyes empty.
Do you see? Do you see the bruises? The scratches? The dark circles under her eyes? Do you see how thin she’s getting? How she won’t even look at you anymore? Do you know why that is Dennis? It’s because you broke her. The Beast may have made the strike but you and Patricia are equally to blame. You are what she has nightmares about now. I hope you’re happy.
Casey rolled onto her side and Dennis could see the scratches, still livid on her skin. He felt physically sick at the sight.
I never wanted this…
It’s too late to undo the damage. But maybe you can stop more damage being done.
Do the right thing.
Dennis looked down at his feet. They were right. He’d done terrible things and he’d stood by to let even worse happen. What could he do? He considered carefully. Take Casey somewhere safe, leave her to be found… Patricia would never allow it. Even if he managed, she’d only go after her again. The only way to ensure Casey’s safety was to remove all risk.
As a younger man, Kevin had attempted suicide. He’d taken fistfuls of prescription pills, hoping it would be the most painless way. It hadn’t worked; he’d vomited them up before any permanent damage could be done. But Dennis remembered the swirling void as they’d hovered on the edge of death and the prospect of returning terrified him. If he got the opportunity, he’d only have one chance and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to go through with it.
Was there an easier way? A way to make Casey safe without death?
There are no easy answers.
The Beast wanted Casey to sire the next generation. Would he let her go if that were no longer a possibility? He didn’t know. He wasn’t entirely sure that the Beast wouldn’t just eat her.
Dennis rubbed his temples. He was beginning to get a migraine.
Maybe a walk would help him think. He wasn’t technically supposed to leave her alone but he couldn’t imagine she’d be able to do anything during a ten minute absence.
As he left, locking the door behind him, Casey’s head turned. As vacant as she appeared, her mind was working overtime. It was the only thing that distracted her from the pain and the memories, the only thing still allowing her to keep hold of some semblance of sanity. It hadn’t taken long for her to decide that under no circumstances would she allow the Beast or Patricia to use her as they saw fit. She had reviewed every possible option, looked into every opportunity and weighed up all the outcomes. She knew what she had to do.
Rising from the blankets, Casey hobbled over to the bathroom. Her legs protested with every step, too damaged to allow more than a shuffle. Bracing herself against the bathroom sink, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t recognise herself anymore.
It has to be done.
She brought back her fist and slammed it into the mirror with all the force she could muster. It didn’t break immediately so she pounded her knuckles against it until finally a thin spider web of cracks began to spread across the surface. She scrabbled at the cracks, digging her nails in in a vain attempt to prise one fragment free. The glass cut into the soft pads of her fingers but she ignored the pain. It couldn’t compare and she was willing to take any pain for a way out.
Finally she managed to separate a shard from the rest of the mirror. She held it in her hand, her own eyes staring back at her as though she was trapped in the tiny glass prison.
You can do it. You have to.
She reviewed her anatomical knowledge in her head. Her father had taught her about the body, of animals and humans. There were more than twenty arteries in the human body. She shifted her gaze to the remains of the wall mirror, tracing their path with her eyes. Carotid. Subclavian. Radial. Femoral. If severed, a complete haemorrhage could take place in a matter of minutes. Not long enough to really feel it, she thought. And that was if the body didn’t go into shock.
You can do this.
When Dennis came back from his brief walk, he was still no closer to thinking of a solution. But he had got himself some ibuprofen so at least his headache was somewhat abating.
Your priorities astound me.
He ignored Barry, setting down his small carrier bag. Casey appeared to be in the exact same spot as when he’d left, staring at the far wall.
She should eat.
Patricia had woken up, eager for the light. Dennis willingly stepped aside. At least if he wasn’t in the light he could keep his hands clean. Instead he watched as Patricia began to fix Casey a sandwich, one she inevitably wouldn’t eat.
As they entered the main room with the small offering, Dennis’ eagle eyes scanned the room and picked up on tiny details that just seemed… wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was at first but there was something off.
The candles twisted the colours of the room, painting the walls in a warm glow. But as he looked around, he realised what was disturbing him. From the bathroom door, over to the makeshift bed where Casey had cocooned herself, there were intermittent patches on the floor where something dark had dripped sporadically. He frowned to himself, following the trail as best he could. It was difficult in his position as passenger, only able to see what Patricia saw. She was too focused on Casey, approaching the girl with the plate.
Nearing the bed, Dennis could see the stains were more numerous here. Even Patricia could see it now and she froze. The dark blemishes on the blankets were large and looked black in the candle light. But they were undeniable.
Patricia’s eyes locked onto the trail, pursuing it to the source. In the bathroom, they could make out the mirror, now distorted with cracks and broken pieces. It became painfully obvious what had happened.
“No!” snarled Patricia. She dropped the plate and ran to Casey, kneeling down. Her hands roughly shook the girl, who continued to stare numbly, eyes glazed over. “No! You will not do this! Not after all my work!”
Dennis felt a momentary pang of bitter relief. She had found her own way out.
One of Patricia’s hands went to Casey’s chin, turning her head to look at her. She looked for some kind of recognition in the girl’s eyes. Her other hand fumbled at the blankets, searching for Casey’s arms so that she could assess the damage. Suddenly, Casey’s body jerked. She threw herself against Patricia, pulling her arms free from the covers. The glass shard was tightly clutched in one hand, the edges cutting into her palm. Before Patricia had a chance to react, Casey drove the pointed fragment deep into the woman’s neck.
Had she hit her mark? She wasn’t sure but it was too late for another attempt. Patricia rose, hands flying to her neck where blood had begun to gush. She stumbled back, her face filled with rage and surprise. Casey didn’t wait for her to regain her senses. She wriggled out of bed and limped towards the door.
“Oh no you don’t!” Patricia snapped, lunging after her. Her foot connected with one of the candles dotted across the floor, knocking it over. It rolled across the floor, spewing hot wax. The wick connected with the blankets which instantly sparked.
Patricia whirled around, no longer focused on Casey. The small flame billowed up into a furious blaze, consuming the covers. Thick smoke was already beginning to swirl through the confined space. Casey took the opportunity, struggling to the door and letting herself out. She didn’t stop to look back.
The smoke followed her, invading the corridors. It stole its way down her throat, choking her with the noxious fumes. Her legs were in agony and she knew they wouldn’t hold her up forever but she surged on. She had to get away. She had to.
She tried to remember the way Patricia had led her when she’d been taken to the train yard. The smoke was building and making everything harder to focus on.
In the end it didn’t matter. She found the stairs and had clambered up a short distance before her legs gave out. She tried to continue on but they refused to cooperate.
Casey slumped against the wall. Everything was hazy. Her eyes burned and she suddenly felt immensely tired.
I made it out, she thought. That’s all that matters.
She was vaguely aware of a wailing nearby but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Huddled in the stairwell, Casey let her eyes slide shut. She had got away. She was free.
Chapter 15: Fourteen
Living in dreams of yesterday, we find ourselves still dreaming of impossible future conquests ~ Charles Lindbergh
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
I hope you’re well. I hope you finally got the peace you wanted.
I am still searching for it. I know you never really got to see what the others did but I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Dennis. I said that I felt like what my uncle did left a taint across my skin that everyone could see. Well, I had no idea how much worse it would be when everyone actually knows what happened to you. I thought as time passed people would lose interest. It didn’t work out like that.
When I was in the hospital, the police wanted to know everything. I did what I could to help them. They found Ruth’s body and I gave them all the details I had. And they found your body in the basement. Well, they never confirmed that it was you. The physical remains were basically just bone. And for some reason they couldn’t find your dental records for comparison. Still, there was no one else in that basement. No sign of anywhere Patricia could have gone. I don’t know if you could feel what they felt but I hope you didn’t suffer. I chose the quickest way I could… I didn’t count on the fire though.
After the police came the journalists. They all wanted to know how I survived when everyone else died. I scared a few of them away. Turns out saying ‘I didn’t, I just died in a different way’ wasn’t the answer they expected. A few people think I was in cahoots with you, since I was the only survivor twice over. I offered to show them my bruises but I guess conspiracy nuts will always ignore the actual evidence.
One particularly inflammatory journalist broke into my room when I was still comatose to take pictures. They’re writing a book about it now. Marcia’s parents have given an interview. Claire’s parents refused, as did Ruth’s. He kept coming to see me, pressing me to talk. I snapped. I hit him. I knew I shouldn’t have but I just… he made me sick.
I’ve moved three times because of the crazies and the press vultures. I should probably have left the city entirely, but my dad is buried here. Your grave is here. I didn’t want to leave.
If things had gone differently, maybe I’d be buried here too. I got very lucky, that’s what the nurses kept saying. Lucky, lucky, lucky. When I was found I was already unconscious from smoke inhalation. The only reason I lived was because of the Horde’s choice of lair. The basement they chose was actually on hospital property. It used to be the psychiatric block. If they’d gone further away, chances are I wouldn’t have survived.
These things follow me now. It’s not always instantaneous, I can know someone for weeks… months, then suddenly they get this look on their face and they realise where they know me from. And then I know they’ll treat me differently.
Only one good thing has come out of this ordeal. I am now on my own. I turned eighteen the day I woke up, what are the odds right? Still, once I was released I went home with my uncle. I didn’t intend to stay… I just wanted to gather my things before I left. Didn’t quite work out. The first few days were alright, then he tried his usual tricks. But it didn’t work. I wasn’t like I used to be. I fought him off and then that night, I went into his room with a kitchen knife.
No, I didn’t kill him. I considered it. But all I did was wake him, knife to his throat and gave him the facts. I was leaving. If he ever contacted me again, it would not end well.
I didn’t really have anywhere to go and I thought I’d end up on the streets. I mean, I had money that I’d inherited but after all, finding a house takes time. I got lucky. My uncle called the police on me, like an idiot. They picked me up, I told them I was unsafe and they took me to a refuge. Obviously there’s more to it but this letter is already long enough and you don’t really care about the tiny details of my move to independence.
It took a while to adjust but it’s getting easier. The nights are the worse. Some nights I don’t sleep, just stare at the door waiting for something bad to happen. Most nights I hide a knife under the mattress.
I’m sorry I can’t end this on a more optimistic note but I guess that’s just the way things are. These things take time. Hopefully it’ll improve.
Casey put down her pencil, resting her head against the concrete wall. It was early autumn, the trees were ablaze with ruby and gold. The room was thick with a heavy musky smell of fur and sawdust, not entirely unpleasant. A low yowl came from the pacing animal, striped fur rippling over lean muscle. Only a set of metal bars separated the two of them from one another.
The tiger enclosure was peaceful, the noise from the rest of the zoo was a distance background babble. Of the four tigers, three were outside. Dimitri had remained inside while his twin lounged by the gate to the rest of the enclosure, occasionally poking his head in.
It had taken a lot for her to come back. Her therapist had recommended the initial trip, suggesting it might be a way to repair some of her associations with places. It had been difficult, but she had eventually agreed. The zoo had actually helped pay for her treatment. Whether it was out of guilt or if they simply wanted to avoid bad publicity, they offered to pay for Casey to receive counselling for what had happened. And, after several sessions, her therapist had offered a new proposal for her. As Casey wasn’t yet in a state where regular work was an option, she had a great deal of empty hours to fill. The zoo let her behind the scenes with the animals in return for her providing them with drawings they could use. They paid a small amount for each picture but for Casey it wasn’t about the money. She was just glad to have somewhere to go and feel calm.
The tigers were her favourites. She knew each of them by name and could tell them all apart. The keepers had warned her to keep her distance when she observed them but soon found their concerns were unwarranted. The animals seemed… drawn to her, in a way. Dimitri especially. She would place her hand against the metal grate and he would rub against it, letting her entwine her fingers in his fur.
Her phone chirruped at her and she glanced at it. It was getting late, she needed to get home.
Reluctantly she got to her feet. Dimitri padded over to her and butted his head lightly at the door. He let out a grunt of indignation.
“I’ll see you soon boy, I promise.”
Tucking her sketchpad under her arm, she exited the shed and made her way across the zoo to the exit. It was a weekday and the kids were back at school so there weren’t too many people around. That was how she liked it best. A few of the keepers waved to her, knowing her by sight. She returned the gesture but mostly kept her head down.
It was a short distance to her current home. The apartment was nice enough. It had a security guard which she appreciated. Everything else came secondary. Sometimes she would get the bus home but that night she was feeling okay and decided to walk.
One of the things she’d had to readjust to was just existing out in public. Anyone who came too close automatically presented a threat to her and she’d had to remind herself repeatedly that no, not everyone was dangerous. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life hiding.
She made good time and reached the apartment block before the sun set. She let herself in, nodded to the security guard, and headed up in the elevator. Hers was on the fourth floor, along with two other apartments. She had made it her business to look into her neighbours, who were all fairly benign.
From outside her door, Casey could hear the sound of the TV and she rolled her eyes. As she turned the handle, there was a scurry of feet and the sound cut off abruptly.
“I’m home,” she called.
She was greeted by a flurry of barking, as her two dogs bounded over, quickly followed by a small boy with mess of sandy coloured hair.
Casey swept her son into her arms, cuddling him close.
“Hey little guy.” Her attention shifted to the sofa where her neighbor was sitting. “Hey big guy.”
“How was he?”
“An angel like always. Did you have a good session?”
“Yeah, got up close and personal with one of the tigers.”
Casey released her squirming son who ran off, unable to remain still for more than a handful of seconds. She seated herself beside her neighbor. He was her age and his father actually owned the security company that serviced the building.
“Thanks for today Joseph. I’m trying to find a new day care for Lachlan.”
“It’s not a problem. I’m happy to help.” He gave her a friendly smile, budging up to allow her a small window of space. He was aware of her issues with proximity and although she was more comfortable with him than most, he still made sure to give her space.
“Will you at least let me pay you this time?”
“Not a chance.”
“Will you let me buy dinner?”
“I could be persuaded.”
This was a familiar conversation between them. Since she’d moved in, Joseph had been a fixture in her and Lachlan’s life. It had started slow, him offering to help her out with small things but it had slowly built to the point where they spent most evenings together. Recently she’d run into some issues with childcare and although she was at home most of the day, her scattered appointments presented a problem.
“Chinese sounds good.”
“I’ll order in a bit. If Lachlan sees us eating it, you know he’ll want it.”
“Of course. What child wouldn’t want Chinese over vegetables?” he grinned. “Movie tonight?”
“Your turn to pick.”
Casey stretched and suppressed a yawn. She got up and began to tidy. The apartment wasn’t particularly messy but she found it difficult to leave anything out of place these days. Joseph watched her from the sofa, picking up on her mood.
“Yeah just… I’m running out of day care places to try. It’s looking like I might have to get a private nanny.”
“You know you don’t need to do that. If you can’t find anywhere, I’m happy to take care of him when you’re busy. He’s my little buddy.”
“You have your own life to live. You can’t always be there.” She went to the sink and began to wash dishes, wanting something to occupy her hands. “It’s not even the expense. I don’t care about that. I hate that this is affecting his life. I don’t want to keep moving him but I also don’t want him to hear something from a kid who’s just parroting what their parents have said. He doesn’t need to hear that.”
“It’ll work out Casey. Trust me. Now, do you want me to look after him tomorrow afternoon? You’ve got that class, right?”
“Yeah. Thank you.”
She tried to put it out of her mind and focus on other things. The evening continued in much the same way as every other. She put Lachlan to bed and ordered Chinese, which Joseph and she ate in front of a dumb comedy. When it came time for Joseph to leave, she began the second part of her evening routine.
Firstly, she checked all the locks. Front door and every window.
Second, check on Lachlan. Safe, sleeping soundly.
Third, get the dogs settled. They’d joined the family a few months after Lachlan’s first birthday. She’d chosen them carefully, after months of research, and had trained them herself. They were Estrela Mountain dogs. One would sleep in the living room, the other in her bedroom. It made her feel a lot safer knowing they were there.
The final step was to check her bedside drawer where she kept her gun. She’d started shooting practice shortly after leaving home and had replaced her knife with a small revolver.
Once her checks were done, she was able to sleep… albeit in a very disturbed manner.
If she was lucky, she wouldn't dream
Potentially one more chapter
Chapter 16: Fifteen
Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see ~ Philip Guston
Okay, so this was going to be the last chapter but i have an idea. I'll leave it up to you guys. If you want, we can call this the end, or if you're willing to stick it out with me for a bit longer despite the darkness...
The next day, Casey found herself at the entrance of Raven Hill Memorial Hospital. Her art supplies were tucked under her arm. The security guards let her in and searched her bag for any potential contraband she might be attempting to smuggle in before directing her to take a seat.
She took out a pen and continued to work on another letter. They were supposed to help her sort out her thoughts. Usually it worked but on this occasion she couldn’t focus and ended up slipping the half-finished letter into the back of her sketchbook. She shifted uncomfortably, feeling trapped inside the white walls. There had been a period near the end of her pregnancy where she’d been temporarily committed. It was only the thought of her unborn baby being placed in the hands of someone like her uncle that had pushed her to get better.
Lachlan had been the driving force in a lot of her new life. When she’d first started out on her own, it had been hard to keep the bad thoughts at bay. Every noise was a monster coming to get her. It got so bad that she’d stay awake for days, only sleeping when she physically passed out from exhaustion. Then came the news of the pregnancy… she hadn’t taken it well. Her nightmares became twisted visions of the future, a miniature Beast clawing its way out of her stomach.
Casey looked up, startled out of her recollections. A tall woman with tidy strawberry blonde hair had appeared and was waiting expectantly.
“I’m Dr Staple, we spoke on the phone?”
“Yes, it’s good to finally meet you in person.” Casey got to her feet
“You’ve had your bags checked?”
“Good.” Dr Staple gestured for her to follow and the two of them strode down the white corridors. “Now, I know you’ve been briefed but I wanted to emphasis, if you feel at all uncomfortable, say and we will end the session immediately. Our patients can be… unpredictable.”
“I’m sure I’ve dealt with worse…”
“I can imagine… I followed your case with great interest. Dissociative identity disorder is of great interest to many psychologists… but I’m sure you’ve had enough of people talking about that… which brings me to the next matter. Ordinarily we stress that our staff keep their private life separate from work as it can lead to… issues, but I do need to warn you that due to the publicity of your case, some of our patients may know details about you.”
“I’m used to people… knowing more than they should.”
They entered a communal area, where a few patients were dotted around. Casey began to set up her supplies as Dr Staple gathered everyone together. Art therapy. It had been an interesting suggestion from her therapist. She liked the idea of helping people. Maybe if Kevin had had that support, he might have had a different life.
The patients had formed a loose semi-circle around her and Dr Staple wheeled over a man in a wheelchair with an intense expression on his face. The doctor nodded to Casey to start.
As she began her lesson, the man’s eyes never left her. He made no move to start his own art work. Casey covered the basics, showing them the best way to mix colours and get the right level of depth to their pictures. She set them on a task and circled the room, making sure to check in with anyone who looked like they were struggling.
As she passed the man in the wheelchair, she noted a comic book tucked in a small tray beneath the chair. The sight of it gave her an idea and she decided to try to engage him, hoping it might encourage him to participate more.
“Who would win in a fight? The Avengers or the Teen Titans?” she asked.
He raised an eyebrow, smiling ever so slightly.
“Well that would depend on which version of the team was involved.”
“I’ll admit my knowledge of the different teams is a little spotty. I only know a little bit. My neighbour likes superheroes.”
“I was always more a fan of the villains.”
“They can be… interesting. What’s your name?”
“You can call me Mr Glass…” The name sounded familiar and something must have shown on Casey’s face because he nodded. “Yes, that one. And you are Casey Cooke… you’ve had quite the supervillain experience yourself.”
“I wouldn’t call them a supervillain.”
“They have the ability to alter their physical chemistry at will. If that’s not a super power, what is?”
Casey shifted uncomfortably and decided to change the subject.
“Are you interested in art?”
“Yes. I enjoy paintings particularly.”
“Well I’ve got some spare paints if you want to do something?” She gestured to her supplies. “Come on, let’s see if we can find you something.”
The pair headed over to where she had left her possessions. As Casey sorted through what remained of her paints, trying to find something she thought might appeal to the strange man. He reached over and picked up her sketchpad.
Mr Glass began to look through, taking his time with each of them.
“I see you favour the romanticist style… how did you get these so detailed?”
“I… am good with animals. Makes it a little easier.”
He came to a page where she had carefully fastened a small bundle of fur and he stroked it gently.
“Is this tiger fur?”
“It seems like good with animals is an understatement?”
Casey shrugged and took the sketchbook back.
“I have to check on the others. It was nice talking to you.”
He gave her a curt nod as she turned away and continued to pass round the group. When she next looked back, he had wheeled himself off to a table on the far side of the room and was writing. Throughout the rest of the class, she occasionally felt his eyes on her but she did her best to ignore it.
When the class wrapped up, Casey gathered her things and was met by Dr Staple who escorted her out. The doctor seemed pleased with her efforts, even though Casey felt like she hadn’t really done much. They agreed to discuss future sessions, before she set off for home.
Casey felt good. It had been a good day and she was looking forward to a quiet night with Lachlan. She had no more appointments that week and although she knew she would have to resume her search for day care providers, she was excited to spend some time with her son.
As she passed by a restaurant, her eyes wandered across the window. There were a few couples sitting inside, enjoying their dinner and each other’s company. She felt a slight twinge at the sight. Her life was good and she was fairly sure that any relationship she attempted to cultivate would end in disaster. But still… it got lonely sometimes. Joseph was a great friend but beyond him, she didn’t really have very much of what could be considered a social life. The little corner she’d carved out for herself was very insular.
Deciding to take a detour on her way home, Casey veered from the road. She followed a winding route to the cemetery and made her way across the grass to a specific headstone. In large lettering it read Kevin Wendall Crumb. There were no other details, no epitaph. The other graves had flowers scattered across them, but Kevin’s remained unattended.
She settled herself on the grass. Casey visited the graveyard a few times a year. It wasn’t a place she was particularly fond of but she felt that Kevin, the real Kevin and not the alters who so often ran around in his body, deserved at least one person who thought of him. It was strange to her that her life had become so interwoven with a man she’d really only met twice, for the briefest of times. Sometimes she would talk. It was a good place to confess things she couldn’t tell anyone else. Other times she would just sit quietly.
“Hi Kevin. I know it’s been a while… well, maybe not for you. I don’t know if you have time wherever you are… or even if you are anywhere. I met a man today and he said that he thought what you could do was like a superpower. I’m not so sure. It seems to me, the line between superpower and curse is very thin. But it also got me thinking that… that’s kind of a beautiful way to look at things. Think about it, turning what people would consider a weakness or an affliction into something unique and powerful… I don’t know, I’m just rambling. But hey, if you’ve got super powers, maybe that means your son does too.” She laughed and then caught herself. She’d never actually acknowledged Kevin’s part in Lachlan’s existence before.
“I wonder sometimes if… I know that all of you had different biology… Jade had diabetes and the rest of you didn’t… does that mean Lachlan’s only related genetically to one of you? If I had to fill in a medical form, would I need to put down any illnesses that your alters had? It’s a weird grey area. I’m probably over thinking this. I’ll tell you another weird little quirk… despite everything, I don’t hate Dennis. Or Hedwig, or the others. Just Patricia. I can’t even make myself hate… Him. I’m scared of him but… I don’t hate him. I think I should. I don’t. He was more animal than man. Animals don’t have that kind of morality. Patricia. She knew better. Dennis was just a coward, Hedwig was just a child. I didn’t want to have to kill them… you know there was actually a point down there, where I thought to myself that… maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Before what the Beast did. There was a time when I was playing with Hedwig and I was… comfortable around Dennis and I don’t know, maybe it was Stockholm syndrome but I felt… okay. I felt better than I had in years. You know, if I’d been given a choice… maybe. I might have considered it for a moment.”
Casey let out a long sigh and ran her fingers through her hair.
“I never planned to kill anyone. It was… I know I shouldn’t, I know it was self-defence… but I hate myself for it. Every single day. I’m sorry Kevin. I’m sorry for both of us. We’ve lived lives that no one should have to live.”
Chapter 17: Sixteen
Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. ~ Lewis B. Smedes
The phone rang. Casey was in the middle of making lunch, listening as Lachlan babbled along with the television. The shrill ring was almost startling in the happy bubble of noise. Wiping her hands on her jeans, she picked it up. The number was vaguely familiar but it wasn’t in her contact list. She considered ignoring it but as the ringing persisted, she told herself that it might be important and reluctantly answered.
“Good afternoon Miss Cooke.”
She recognised the voice immediately and hung up. As she expected, the phone rang again moments later. Casey glared at it, silently willing them to leave her alone. Knowing the caller and his behaviour, she knew that they would keep calling until she answered. With an aggravated noise, she picked up.
“What do you want?” she asked, through gritted teeth.
“And hello to you too. How are you?”
“What. Do. You. Want?”
“Okay I’m guessing we’re skipping the pleasantries then?”
“Mr Lounds, as I have told you multiple times, I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave me alone.”
“I’m guessing that therapy isn’t helping you open up. What a shame.”
“I got stuck on forgiving those that have wronged me,” she snapped.
“Does that mean you’re hoping to punch me in the face again?”
“Are you intending to show up on my doorstep again?”
“No… unfortunately the rather aggressive security guard at the entrance stopped that plan.” Casey froze at his words, her blood running cold. She took a deep breath and forced herself to keep her voice steady.
“I guess I’m moving again then.”
“I really wouldn’t bother. The housing market is a disaster at the moment and you can find pretty much anything on the internet. It would really be a lot of effort for no pay off.”
“Are you going to get to the point any time soon Mr Lounds? I have things to do.”
“I wanted to see if you might revise your stance on giving an interview.”
“So you have no comment on the recent disappearances of young girls in the area?” Casey took a moment to consider her response before giving it. She knew from experience that Mr Lounds would do whatever he could to take things out of context to support his own agenda.
“I wasn’t aware of any missing girls. I tend to avoid watching the news these days. However, I hope that the girls get home safely. I would also like to remind you that this is a big city, and there are unfortunately a lot of bad people in it. And that you can’t really blame Kevin since he’s been dead for a few years now.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“I have to be.”
“Well honestly I’m not so sure. And I have to wonder what’s going to happen when he finds out about little Norman Bates Junior.”
“Leave my son out of this,” Casey snarled. “You don’t give a damn about any of the girls involved. All you do is profit off suffering and grief. You’re a parasite.”
“You think so low of journalists Miss Cooke, I’m hurt.”
“I’d believe that if you had feelings. And no, not all journalists. Just you.”
“I’m just trying to bring the truth to light. I would call that a noble endeavour.”
“I already told the truth. I told the police what happened. The only people who think there’s more to it, are you and your imbecilic readers. And while we’re on the subject, if you’re so convinced that I was an accomplice to Kevin, tell me, just how do the numerous injuries I sustained – that you saw after you broke into my hospital room – fit into that theory? Or are you implying that I did those to myself?”
“I’m not implying anything. Merely looking at all the options.” Casey responded with an aggravated sigh, deciding the best option was not to give him anything else to feed off of. “Well if I can’t convince you… I’ll take my offer elsewhere. But you have my number if you change your mind. Be seeing you Miss Cooke.”
The line went dead. Casey slammed it down on the counter.
“Asshole.” Lachlan giggled from the sofa and Casey glanced over, having all but forgotten he was there. “You didn’t hear that.”
She tried to put the call out of her mind as she finished making Lachlan’s lunch. It was difficult, his words seemed to be stuck on a permanent loop in her brain. She hadn’t heard about any disappearances and even if she had, they didn’t mean anything… people went missing all the time…. It didn’t mean that the Beast was…
Casey pushed the thought away. He was dead. He had to be. Otherwise everything would have been for nothing.
It was late. Lachlan was safely tucked up in bed. Joseph had gone away for a few days to visit family and Casey was beginning to realise just how much she relied on his company. However she was determined not to mope around. Instead she had run a hot bath filled with bubbles and was enjoying it by candle light. She didn't really consider herself a girly girl and with Lachlan running around she didn't often get time for a bath, instead sticking with five minute showers. But as she sat in the soft glow of the bathroom, she could see the appeal. The bathroom door was ajar in case she was needed and her two dogs lay in the opening, resting against one another.
She was looking through a comic book. It had arrived in her mail box that morning. She guessed it was something Joseph had ordered that had been misdelivered and knew he wouldn't mind her reading it.
Truthfully, reading wasn't an entirely accurate description. Really she was looking at the pictures and skipping the text. It depicted a female superhero fighting crime. She wore a red hoodie with the hood pulled up so her face was shadowed. Only her mouth was visible in the panels.
She could tell that it wasn’t a mass produced comic. It was bespoke, custom made. That was confirmed by the appearance of a character that she had seen in the news only a few days before. The Overseer. The vigilante of Philadelphia. His brief appearance in the comic solidified it in her mind as something specially created. She wondered briefly where Joseph had ordered it from. Maybe she could order something with Lachlan in for his birthday… he’d like that. He loved looking at Joseph’s comic collection and discussing the superheroes in them with the rare enthusiasm that young children possessed.
As Casey turned to the last page, her body stiffened as she took in the images. The superhero returned home and finally the hood came down. The wild dark hair, the face sketched in minute detail. It was undeniable. It was her. And stood behind her was the outline of a tall, broad man that she knew instantly.
She forced herself to remain calm, setting the comic down near the bath. It was probably just some nutter with a flair for dramatics. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been sent things by someone who had their own wild opinions on what she’d experienced. It was certainly an improvement on the severed cats’ feet. Or the threatening letters written in what she seriously hoped was just red pen. It didn’t mean anything. Her building was secure. The mailboxes the building residents used were a discrete distance from the apartments and there was no way of identifying that the two were linked. Whoever had sent it didn’t know where she was, they couldn’t.
She looked up sharply. Lachlan was standing in the doorway in his fluffy penguin pyjamas, hair tousled.
“Hey little man, are you okay?”
“I can’t sleep. The monster is howling outside the window.”
“That’s just the wind sweetie. There’s no monster.” He didn’t look convinced. “Do you want to sleep in with me tonight?” Lachlan nodded. “Okay. Go get in, I’ll be in a minute when I’ve dried off.”
He scurried out of sight. Casey extracted herself from the bath. She grabbed a towel but didn’t immediately cover herself, instead pausing in front of the mirror. Her skin was covered in marks, each telling a story. The scars from her uncle had faded but the ones left by the Beast were still clear, running alongside her caesarean scar. She no longer flinched when she saw them. They told of her survival. She had lasted through a great deal.
She dried herself off and grabbed her pyjamas before heading into the bedroom. Lachlan was curled up, the top of his head barely visible.
“Budge up mister,” she said as she clambered in beside him. He snuggled up against her, resting his head on her chest. She stroked his hair gently, wondering absently if he looked like Kevin had as a child.
“Mommy, the monster can’t get me in here can he?”
“I won’t let any monsters get you. Ever.”
“I promise. Even when you’re all grown up, I’ll still keep you safe.”
This seemed to satisfy Lachlan, who burrowed down under the covers, eyes closing. Slowly his breathing evened out and his body relaxed. Casey didn’t sleep. Her fingers gripped the edge of the duvet, rubbing the fabric between her thumb and forefinger. She wasn’t immediately aware of it but her breathing spiked and became erratic. Before her eyes the white plaster of the roof became cracked and rough, harsh lighting burning into her retinas.
No… no I’m not there… I’m safe. It was just a comic… he’s dead… he’s dead, I killed him.
She heard the growl of the Beast and in her hazy reality, his shadow fell across her. She tried to sit up but her body felt weak and useless. His face swam before her eyes, a smirk on his face. It blurred and changed to that of Dennis, unable to meet her gaze. She felt hands on her legs, gliding upwards, rough fingers palpating the smooth skin of her thigh. She shook her head furiously, trying to expel the hallucinations.
Casey… the Beast purred.
“No…” she whispered. “Not real…”
Casey… Dennis’ voice, softer than the other.
She forced herself up and out of bed, crossing the room swiftly and exiting. One of the dogs whined, picking up on her distress, and followed her as she went over to the small closet that the coats were kept in. Casey seated herself inside, pulling the door closed. In the dark it was easier to think. No intrusive sights. No sounds. Just emptiness.
Casey pressed her knees to her chest and rested her head atop them. The dog had squeezed in with her and he crushed his furry body against her bare skin. It helped a little and she reached over to run her fingers through his fur.
“My name is Casey Cooke,” she whispered. “I am a survivor. I was kidnapped and abused but I am safe now. I am here in my home and I am safe. Dennis is gone. The Beast is dead. They cannot hurt me anymore.”
The affirmations weren’t much but she clung to the words. She just prayed that they were true.
Chapter 18: Seventeen
Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
The next day was bright and sunny and despite the nagging thoughts in the back of her head, Casey decided to take Lachlan out to the park. The two of them set off, hands firmly clasped together. Lachlan was happily chatting away about everything in sight and his merry babbling relaxed Casey a little. His good mood was infectious and impossible to resist.
The park was only a short distance from their home and Casey knew it well. She regularly walked the dogs there, usually in the early morning or evening when there were fewer people around. On this occasion, the park had quite a few children there with their parents. Some dog walkers were wandering around on the grass, throwing balls for their pets. Lachlan made a beeline for the playground and began to clamber on the equipment while Casey seated herself on a bench nearby. Ordinarily she would draw but, maybe because of her hallucinations the night before, today she kept her eyes locked on her son, unwilling to be distracted for even a moment. She was hyper aware of her surroundings, every figure on her periphery was a potential threat. Part of her wanted nothing more than to go home and hide but she refused to let her paranoia control her son's life. He needed normality and watching him play with the other children warmed her heart.
As Casey sat there, the hairs on the back of her neck began to rise and her skin prickled. She had a strange sense, one that she used to get when hunting of something nearby that didn't belong. She confirmed Lachlan's location, currently swinging like a monkey on the jungle gym, before slowly sweeping her eyes over her surroundings. The act was cautious and deliberate, making sure that her expression never changed and that her movements were barely visible to anyone observing. As she ran her gaze over the nearby bushes, movement nearby caught her attention.
He was doing a decent job of blending in. Dressed in casual clothes, a camera in his hands that he was carefully pointing at seemingly random locations, the man looked like any other. An amateur photographer collecting nature shots. But Casey knew better. She glared, her expression vitrolic, and quickly enough he dropped the pretense. Unfortunately he took her attention as an invitation and approached her, coming over to the bench and sitting down beside her.
"Good morning Miss Cooke."
"Mr Lounds, do you really want another broken nose?"
"This a public park, i have every right to be here."
Mr Lounds was a short individual who always reminded Casey of some kind of rodent. He had a doughy face and watery, ratlike eyes. That, along with his determination to insert himself into her life, made any meeting with him more than a little unpleasant. She had considered getting a restraining order after the first incident but had, after discussing it with the police, decided against it as that required her to provide her address. Since, at the time, she'd been hiding out, that thought had put her off. Now she was reconsidering.
"There better not be any pictures of my son on that camera."
"Or what? Speak up Miss Cooke, i'd love to get your threat on the record."
"Don't you have actual news to report on? Instead of following me around?"
"Bit of a slow news day today, actually."
"I thought you were on the trail of a mass abductor of young girls? Determined to bring the truth to light and all that?"
He shrugged, smiling.
"Well everyone needs to indulge in a hobby now and then."
"Stalking isn't a hobby."
"Anything can be a hobby if you apply yourself to it. There are those women who write letters to serial killers in their free time... that's more your style isn't it? Not serial killers maybe, but criminals... kidnappers and the like."
"What are you talking about?"
"Letters. To the man who supposedly traumatised you."
Casey felt the blood drain from her face.
"How do you...?"
"Anonymous source. Maybe you should be more careful where you leave things lying around."
"Look, those letters are a therapy exercise. That's all. They don't get sent. And if you try to publish them, i will sue you for libel."
"Thanks for the heads up. But really, you'd only be able to sue me if i made a statement that defamed you. If i publish them, i'm doing nothing of the sort, i'm merely showing that they exist." His grin grew. "You forget Miss Cooke, I've got experience in this area."
"Because you're a crook."
"Careful. You're falling into slander territory there."
Casey opened her mouth to say something but before she could, that strange feeling of wrongness settled over her again. A moment later there came a loud bark and a scream.
She leapt to her feet and turned sharply, following the sound. A large dog, teeth bared, was barrelling towards her son who was fleeing towards her. She knew just from looking that the vicious animal was going to get to its target first.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Casey rushed forward. Lachlan was wailing in terror as he ran, too distraught to notice a small dip in the grass. His foot caught and he fell in a heap. The dog bore down on him, ready to tear into the little boy. One thought was screaming in Casey's brain - get between them.
She sprinted over as the dog leapt forward, inserting herself into its path. Something flickered in the animal's eye and it yelped, trying to redirect itself. It came to a stop a foot or so away from her. There was a burning anger in its expression but there was something else that hadn't been there before, an uncertainty. The dog snarled, pawing at the ground. Casey stood firm and raised her hand. A peculiar confidence settled over her as she regarded the animal.
The dog hesitated before taking a few uncertain steps back. Casey lowered her hand.
The dog whimpered but lay down, resting its head on its paws. Satisfied, Casey turned and scooped Lachlan into her arms. The dog had a lead attached to its collar and she assumed that he’d pulled free of whoever was holding it. She gave the dog a wary look, crouching to take hold of the leash. It growled and twitched as though about to strike again. Casey quelled him with a look, taking the lead and straightening up, before looking around for the dog's owner.
A young woman ran over, face flushed.
"I'm so sorry! It's my boyfriend's dog, I didn't know how strong he was!"
“Be more careful,” Casey said coldly, thrusting the leash into the woman’s hand. She didn’t want to hear excuses, not when her child’s life had been put at risk.
Striding off, she turned her focus to the still quivering boy in her arms. Lachlan was hiding his face against her shoulder and when they had gone a decent distance from the park, she stopped to make sure he was okay.
“I don’t like the big dog mommy…”
“I know. But he’s gone now. Remember, I’ll always keep you safe. No big dogs are going to hurt you.”
Lachlan whimpered and Casey could feel a dampness on her shoulder.
“Don’t cry sweetheart, you’re okay. Let’s go home, we’ll put on your favourite film and I’ll make you something yummy to eat, how about that?”
He lifted his head and nodded slowly, wiping at his tears.
“That’s my brave boy.”
The two of them headed back to the flat. Casey deposited Lachlan on the sofa and settled him under a blanket. They spent the rest of the day snuggled up together, watching films until he eventually nodded off around mid-afternoon. It was only as he slept that Casey allowed herself to think about her conversation at the park which had been banished to the back of her mind by her need to make sure Lachlan was okay.
Part of her was sure that Lounds was bluffing. He couldn’t have one of her letters… then again, only three people knew about their existence – her, her therapist and Joseph. Her therapist couldn’t discuss them… would Joseph betray her like that? It seemed out of character for him but she couldn’t see how else the reporter would have known.
She left Lachlan on the sofa and went to the cupboard. She kept the letters in a box tucked away, only taking it down to add another one. Casey retrieved the box and sorted through the contents. All of the letters seemed to be there apart from her most recent one. She cast her mind back, trying to remember when she’d last seen it. She vaguely recalled working on it at Raven Hill, before her art class. Had she shoved it in her pocket and forgotten about it?
Casey began to mentally retrace her steps. She’d gone to the hospital, she’d sat in reception and written a bit and then… she’d put it into her sketchbook.
Her stomach began to churn as she grabbed the book, flicking through the pages in search of the half-finished letter. Nothing. Fuck.
Her sketchbook had been on the side, unattended. Anyone could have taken that letter.
Casey went to her laptop and brought up the news site that Lounds wrote for. She couldn’t believe he’d really publish her letter… then again, he’d stooped to dirtier tricks before.
The news site held no trace of her letter but Lounds also had a website where he was promoting his upcoming book. She typed in the address and her screen filled with aggressively coloured red text. There was a list of example content from the book, such as interviews with family members, and at the bottom, her worst fear.
Exclusive letters from victim Casey Cooke to her captor.
Casey clenched her fists, screwing her eyes shut and counting to ten under her breath in an attempt to calm down. That bastard. He was determined to paint her as a villain and she knew that he’d have a field day with her letter. He made her sick.
She leaned back in her seat, pinching the bridge of her nose. There had to be a way to deal with it but she couldn’t think clearly. Between the creepy comic, her hallucination and Lounds, she felt like the little bit of control she’d managed to regain was slipping out from between her fingers. Could things get any worse?
Always, her mind told her.
She slammed the laptop closed and looked over at Lachlan. He was what mattered. She would have to do what was best for him.
The rest of the day was a struggle and by the time night fell, Casey was relieved at the prospect of a break from her own thoughts. She’d resolved to arrange a restraining order as soon as she could and seek advice on how to keep her letter out of Lounds’ book. She managed to keep her composure in front of Lachlan but after she had put him to bed, she sank onto the sofa with a resigned groan. If the legal route didn’t pan out, maybe she would have to play nice with Lounds and give him what he wanted. At least if she complied, gave him an interview or something he was more likely to paint her as a victim than a conspirator. Lachlan was already having trouble because of her history, if she was made out to be some kind of kidnapper and killer then things would be infinitely worse.
It was still reasonably early, but she decided to go to bed. It was better than staying up and obsessing over everything. She wished Joseph was back. He’d make it all seem okay.
She retired to her room, the dogs taking up their usual posts, but sleep didn’t come. All she could do was lay there and stare up at the ceiling, willing herself to fall asleep. The shadows lengthened, stretching across the blank canvas like fingers reaching out.
A low growl broke the silence. Casey frowned and propped herself up on her elbows. Usually the dogs slept in separate places – one in her room and one in the living room – but tonight they were both in with her. One had risen from his post and was staring at the door, hackles raised. He growled again and looked over to Casey.
Her heartbeat quickened. She reached over to the bedside table and pulled her revolver from the drawer. She loaded it and got to her feet, moving silently. She’d left the bedroom door slightly ajar and she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary as she peeked through the gap.
A quiet gesture with her hand summoned both dogs to her side. They looked at her for instructions, no longer pets but guards ready to defend the household. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the bedroom door open. The dogs surged out and a moment later she heard loud barking. Casey followed them, clicking the safety off of the gun and holding it out in front of her, ready to fire the second her eyes locked onto something.
The intruder was stood in the middle of her living room, desperately trying to fend the dogs off. Casey levelled the gun at their head.
“What the fuck are you doing in my house?”
Chapter 19: Eighteen
A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt dangerous ~ Alfred Adler
Casey couldn’t believe her eyes. Standing in the middle of the living room was… well, she wasn’t entirely sure. Kevin? Dennis? One of the others? It was hard to tell. He was dishevelled, skinnier than before, with ragged clothes. A livid red mark bisected his throat, a lingering reminder of what had happened between them.
“Casey! It’s me, it’s Kevin… can you get these dogs off of me?”
Casey hesitated, assessing his tone and mannerisms for signs of a trick, before letting out a low whistle, calling the dogs back. She silently gestured for them to guard Lachlan’s door, being careful not to make it too obvious to her intruder. She kept the gun aimed at him.
“What are you doing in my house Kevin?” Her voice was steady and calm. She had imagined what would happen if she met the Horde again and she always thought she'd be more afraid. Maybe it helped that it was Kevin... or maybe it was the knowledge that this was her territory where she was in control. This wasn't like the basement. She held the cards here.
“I… don’t you think the gun is a bit much?”
His eyes over her and she felt incredibly aware of the bare skin her pyjamas revealed. It was uncomfortable being that exposed in front of Kevin. He hadn’t done anything but… it took her a moment to mentally separate the different parts of him.
“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t plan for it to go like this. But it’s not like I could meet you out in public, y’know?”
“So you decided to break into my home? How the hell do you even know where I live?” He shrugged, looking away. Her eyes narrowed. “Kevin, do you have any idea of the danger you’re putting me in by coming here?”
“I wouldn’t hurt you…”
“No, but if you know where I am, the others could. The Beast? Dennis? Patricia? These names ringing any bells for you?”
“Well if it helps, Patricia’s not around anymore… we’re not sure if she’s actually gone but she’s not taken the light since the fire”
“Good for you, you’re one psychopath less.” Kevin’s face creased, taken aback by her harsh words.
“We only met briefly. And both of those occasions I was a prisoner. Now I am not and I have no intention of going back.”
“And I don’t want that for you either, I swear! I just, I thought you might be able to help me…”
"Now? You suddenly have a pressing need for help now? It's been years. I don't buy it."
Kevin shrugged again, looking away. His eyes landed on the sofa and he moved to sit down. Casey made a noise and took half a step forward, intending to stop him but deciding against getting too close.
“I wanted to find you sooner. Apologise for everything. But… well, obviously things… you’re quite hard to pin down. It was only after I got… this…” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. Even from a distance, Casey could make out her handwriting.
“Bloody hell, I’m going to kill that reporter…”
“Reporter? I don’t know about that… but this showed up under our door and it had your address on it. Pretty strange, we don’t get much mail… for obvious reasons.”
Casey let out a long groan, cursing under her breath with venom lacing every word. She paced the room, ordering herself to calm down. She couldn’t lose her head, she had to think about Lachlan. As much as she didn’t want to hurt Kevin, she wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in his head if it meant keeping the Beast away from her son. He couldn’t be allowed to know the boy even existed.
“Casey, please. We need your help. We can’t survive like this…”
Something about his words resonated with her. It took her a minute to realise what it was. We. That was what Kevin had said. Not he needed help. We need your help.
She felt a chill on her skin as the realisation sank in.
“It’s… odd that they let you out Kevin. I thought you only surfaced when someone said your magic words. What gives?”
“Things are… a bit different. They have to be.”
“You’re working with them aren’t you? You’re one of the horde now…”
“No it’s not like that…”
“Let me guess, they sent you to see me because they thought it’d be nicer to you? Because you’re just as much a victim as me right?” Her voice had begun to rise in pitch despite her best efforts to stay calm. One of the dogs whined in response to her growing hysteria. “Tell me I’m wrong…”
The look on Kevin’s face told her that her guess had been accurate. His expression was ashamed but there was a determination, a stony resolve that reminded her of Dennis. He was too far gone. Even if he hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have been able to help him.
“We knew that no matter who came, you wouldn’t exactly be happy to see us… but, Casey, I’m not asking you to help me. Or Dennis, or the Beast. But it’s not just us… I’m asking you to help the others. Jade, Barry… Hedwig. They’re innocent, they need your help.”
“They’re innocent? They wear the same face. They stood by and did nothing while that monster violated me. That’s not innocent” She clenched her fist, sucking in a ragged breath and fighting the urge to cry.
“We didn’t –”
“Have a choice? Well neither do I. I have priorities and I can’t help you. Now, leave. Or I will empty this gun into your skull.”
“Come on Casey, we both know you won’t actually shoot me.”
Casey aimed the gun at his shoulder and pulled the trigger. There was a click, the gun jamming. She growled. Kevin leapt to his feet, staring at her.
“You were actually going to fire!”
“Yes. What part of me didn’t seem serious to you?”
For a moment he didn’t speak, regarding her with a strange look in his eyes, reassessing the girl.
“I understand that you’re scared and you have every right to be but I am not here to hurt you Casey. All we want… all I want is for you to agree to something.” He paused, gauging her reaction. When she didn’t immediately respond, he pressed on. “If you tell the police that I was not mentally competent, that I wasn’t in control when the murders happened, I will turn myself in.”
Casey eyed him warily. Turn himself in? Something about it didn’t ring true. If it was real, she would have jumped at the opportunity, but she couldn’t believe that he would suddenly go from hiding to freely allowing himself to be arrested. And even if Kevin was willing to go to jail, the others would never allow that to happen. Hell, she wasn’t even sure that the Beast could be kept in a regular jail. She’d seen him bend metal bars before… putting him in jail would be a massacre waiting to happen.
Not mentally competent… was Kevin trying to get put in a psychiatric ward? Or was he just hoping to escape the death penalty?
If he’s locked away, at least you’ll know where he is… you’ll be able to keep Lachlan hidden…
Until he inevitably got free again. Even if Kevin was running things, he wasn’t strong enough to keep the others from the light permanently. And then who knew what would happen?
“I don’t believe you,” Casey said simply.
“I’m telling the truth.”
“You might be. But there’s more to it than just you.”
“I don’t want to be a monster. I want to make up for what we’ve done.”
“The whole point of your alters is to protect you. You’re the fragile one, the one who needs shielding. If they didn’t think you could deal with life when you were a functioning member of society, I can’t believe that they think you’re strong enough to handle prison. A psychiatric hospital, maybe, but it’s a stretch.” She shook her head. “Even if I agreed, it would never happen.”
“You could take me to the police station. Make sure I go.”
“I am not going anywhere with you. What I’m going to do, is give you to the count of five before I shoot you between the eyes. And I really doubt you’ll be lucky enough for my gun to jam twice…”
“Fine. I’ll go. But… this is for you.” He pulled a bulging envelope from his pocket. “The others wanted to talk to you as well but it was decided that wasn’t a good idea. So they wrote letters.”
He held it out to her. Casey didn’t move, unwilling to get any closer. Kevin sighed and set the envelope on the coffee table. He waited for her to take it but when she stayed motionless, he gave a slight shrug and turned away. Kevin headed to the door, pausing with his hand on the handle. He glanced back at her, opening his mouth to speak before closing it again and exiting.
Casey watched him go. When the front door clicked shut, she sank to the floor. Her hands were trembling furiously as she the gun aside. Her head was spinning. Who had given him her address? Lounds? He was the obvious guess, fixated on exposing some conspiracy between the two of them... But she couldn't imagine Lounds finding Kevin and keeping quiet about it. He was more likely to crow about how clever he was for finding the killer. Who else? It had to be the person who had sent Lounds her letter, or at least a copy of it it seemed. Had they sent her the comic too? It certainly seemed that they were trying to push some kind of confrontation between her and the Horde.
It doesn't matter who told him, what matters is he knows. And as long as he is alive with that knowledge, Lachlan is at risk.
As much as she wanted to deny the reality of the situation, she had to admit that Kevin knowing jeopardised everything. He might respect her wishes to be left alone but the others were another matter. There was nothing stopping Dennis taking control and coming to find her. Even if Kevin hid the paper with her address on, she had no idea how much was shared between each identity. If the beast found out...
Just the thought made bile rise up in her throat. It wasn't the fear of him hurting her, but the idea of Lachlan being dragged into his father's darkness. That would destroy her.
She couldn't allow it to happen.
They were going to have to move again. She wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of uprooting Lachlan again, but it was preferable to the alternative…
It won’t be enough. Finding a new place will take time, there’s nothing stopping the Beast from coming back before you find anywhere. What if he comes back tomorrow? What would you do then?
She didn’t know. She didn’t want to think about it. She hoped that if the Beast broke in she’d be able to fend him off, keep Lachlan safe but she wasn’t sure. It would be different if they were elsewhere, out of the confined space of her apartment and away from Lachlan… knowing he was in the other room would make it harder.
Her eyes landed on the envelope that Kevin had left behind. Tentatively she shuffled across the floor and picked it up, tearing open the top. She emptied the contents out onto the carpet. There were multiple scraps of paper, each criss crossed with different handwriting. She saw Hedwig’s childish scrawl and sighed softly. She couldn’t read it. She didn’t want to hear their excuses or pleas for her help. She wasn’t going to get involved.
Casey got up and grabbed the paper in her fists. She dumped the letters into the bin before going to the door and locking it securely, testing it multiple times just to be sure. The prospect of sleep was unappealing after Kevin’s visit but she knew she’d need all her energy if he, or one of his less friendly personalities, showed up again. She couldn’t stay awake 24:7 after all.
Giving the dogs a brief pat and a quiet instruction to stay by Lachlan’s door, she went back to her room. She stowed her gun in the bedside drawer but didn’t unload it. Then she lay atop the covers of the bed, arms at her side as she waited for dawn.
Chapter 20: Nineteen
I must lose myself in action, lest i wither in despair ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson
Casey sat in the middle of her living room, surrounded by boxes. She had dropped Lachlan off at day care, deciding that she could deal with the parents’ whispers for the time being. They had gone a rather convoluted route to get there, just in case Kevin was lurking nearby. She couldn’t imagine he’d hang around in the daylight though – he was fairly non-descript but he wouldn’t want to risk being spotted (no matter what he said about wanting to turn himself in and atone).
She had spent most of the morning on the computer, looking for places they could go. She knew that finding an entirely new place to live would take a while to sort so in the meantime she was looking into hotels, storage lockers and kennels for the dogs. She didn’t care where her little family went as long as they weren’t in that building for the Beast to find. Once they got some distance between them, she could look into a more permanent home.
It took her a little while to arrange but she managed to locate a hotel that wasn’t too far away. They didn’t have any immediate vacancies but she was able to book a room for two days later. They would just have to be extra vigilant until then. The kennels were slightly harder to sort as they wanted advanced notice but she theorised that Joseph, who had texted her that morning to say he was on his way back, would be able to feed the dogs until she could get them lodged. Now it was just a matter of packing.
As she sat amongst the boxes, she felt like all the energy was being drained from her body. She’d worked so hard to put a life together for Lachlan and it was falling apart. She could feel it slipping through her fingers like damp sand crumbling under her grip.
The prospect of packing up her new life and running was too much to handle. Casey felt like the walls were closing in and she quickly decided that she needed to get some air. Grabbing her keys, she let herself out of the apartment and headed in the direction of the zoo. Her eyes scanned the streets as she went, vigilantly assessing anyone who passed. She figured that the zoo would be a good place to go. It had a calming quality and more importantly, she thought that since the chances of Kevin being recognised were higher there, he was less likely to make a surprise appearance.
She waved her pass to the woman at the front entrance and entered the zoo, making her way over to the tiger enclosure. Casey went around the side and over to the staff entrance. She expected the little house to be empty but for once it was occupied. One of the cage doors was open, the sliding panel that let the animals in and out of the external enclosure tightly sealed. There were two people inside, huddled around the still body of one of the tigers. One was a keeper she recognised, the other was a stranger. He had rubber gloves on and appeared to have a hand in the unconscious animal’s mouth.
As she entered, the two men looked over.
“Ma’am you can’t be back here, this is staff only,” said the stranger.
“It’s cool Daniel, that’s Casey, she’s allowed in,” the keeper assured him.
“She an employee?”
“No, just… she’s got an arrangement. Good to see you again Cas.”
“Good to be back… I can go if I’m going to be in the way?”
“No, it’s fine,” the stranger said. “I’m Daniel. I’m one of the veterinary technicians. The big guy’s not been eating so I’m giving him an examination.”
Casey nodded and perched near the edge of the cage so she could see. The second cage area was occupied by Dmitri who was letting out mournful cries as he watched the vet fiddle with his brother. At the sight of Casey, he ambled over and headbutted her side through the bars. Daniel opened his mouth, perhaps to warn her away but the keeper indicated for him to leave it be. Casey rubbed the tiger’s head absently.
She watched with interest as Daniel examined the tiger’s mouth, checking his teeth for signs of damage that might be preventing him from eating. There was a bag nearby which held the vet’s equipment. Near the top was a small case containing long thin syringes, each topped with a pink plume.
“Tranquilizer darts?” she asked, picking one up to examine it closer.
“They’re bigger than I thought they’d be.”
“Sedation is a risky process. They’ve got automatic plungers on them that go off when they make impact. We don’t want the dart falling out in case it compromises the amount of sedative we give them. Plus we want to minimise the stress which is why we want to get it in first time. Tiger hide is pretty thick, they have to be that size to make sure they full imbed into the muscle.”
Casey nodded slowly.
“What dosage do they get?”
“200mg ketamine and 3mg medetomidine. If we need to transport him elsewhere, we’d have to adjust the dose accordingly.” He looked over at her. “Be careful with that. It’s done on weight. You get that in your system and you will be in serious trouble.”
Casey lapsed into silence as Daniel continued working on the slumbering tiger. Dmitri had calmed somewhat since she arrived and had laid down against the bars, occasionally letting out soft noises to encourage her to stroke his fur.
Daniel finished up his examination and exited the cage. He locked the door and sat near Casey to wait for the tiger to come round. They fell into easy conversation as they sat there. Daniel was friendly and their shared love of the big cats gave them something to talk about. It was pleasant and Casey enjoyed the brief respite from reality that it afforded her. With the musky scent of the tigers, the soft feel of Dmitri’s fur under her palm and the smile of the young vet, she could pretend to be someone else for just a little while.
The short visit to the zoo helped Casey a little and by the time she returned home, she was feeling calmer. She stopped on the way back and picked Lachlan up. He was in high spirits from spending the day with other kids which made her feel a little bad that she had been neglecting his social interaction.
When they got home, Casey started to prepare dinner. Lachlan was playing with his toys and chattering to her about everything he had done that day all at once. It reminded her of the old days when they had first moved in and everything had been good. The thought made her feel rather melancholy. They were going to leave behind so much… she just hoped that what they were moving towards was a positive.
Casey was chopping vegetables when a sharp knock at the door made her jump, the knife slicing across her finger as she jerked. She hissed in pain and grabbed a tea towel to stem the blood that began to flow. There was another knock. She frowned, wondering who it was. Joseph would usually knock and then immediately enter so she didn’t think it was his.
Tucking her injured hand under the other arm, she went over to the front door and opened it. She was greeted by the rat face of Lounds, leaning against the door frame with a smug look on his face.
“I need a new security guard…” Casey said with a scowl. She glanced back into the living room where Lachlan was playing. One of the dogs seated itself protectively in front of him, the other coming over to stand at her side. “I do not have the patience to deal with you today Lounds, please get off my doorstep.”
“I won’t take up much of your time Miss Cooke. I’m just a delivery service today.”
He pulled a package from his jacket and held it out to her.
“I have no desire to take anything from you.”
“No but you are a curious cat and I know it’s already eating you up inside to know what’s in there.”
He waved the package in front of her face. It was skinny and about the size of an A4 piece of paper. Casey sighed and snatched it, ripping it open. Inside were two items, one a thin piece of paper and the other a small booklet of some sort. She pulled the booklet out first.
It was another comic book, identical in style to the one she’d received before. She glanced briefly at the pages, the story picking up where the previous one had left off. Her hands trembled as she held it and she looked up venomously at Lounds.
“I should have known it was you.”
“You’re giving me too much credit. Art has never been my strong suit. This showed up at my door and I thought it might interest you.”
“Like I’m going to believe that.”
She tipped up the envelope, letting the other item fall out. It looked to be just a plain piece of paper with a very brief bit of typed text on it. At first the words made no sense but as she read them again, it sank in.
“Is this a joke to you?” she demanded.
“Do you get some kind of sick fucking thrill out of trying to ruin my life? Is that it? You get your rocks off to my tears, my despair?” Her voice was wavering, so furious she could barely form the words. Rage fuelled tears stung the corners of her eyes and she crumpled the paper in her fist. “You act all high and mighty like you’re on some great path to achieve things and right wrongs but you’re just a sadist. I never did anything to you, why are you so hell bent on destroying me?”
In her frantic state, the tea towel had fallen from her hand and the blood from her cut was running between her fingers, down her wrist and dripping onto the floor by her feet.
“You’ve lost me… is your hand okay?”
“Like you care. Or are you hoping for a new angle for your lies? Huh? Well maybe you’ll get your wish. Maybe I’ll just drop dead and then you’ll have a fantastic ending for your fucking book.”
She slammed the door in his face. Lachlan let out a startled yelp at the noise, looking over to her.
“Mommy, are you okay?”
“I’m fine sweetie,” she said through gritted teeth. “I just hurt my hand. You stay there… I’m going to get a bandaid.”
Casey marched past him and went into the bathroom. She didn’t go for the first aid kit that she kept tucked in the bathroom cabinet. She locked the door and sat on the floor, resting her forehead against her bloodstained fist. Without Lachlan to see it, she could let herself cry properly, choking sobs breaking free. She grabbed a towel and buried her face in it, stifling the sound to a barely audible whimper. The paper was still clasped in her fist and she slowly loosened her grip, letting it fall down. She could make out the crumpled words and they turned her stomach, sending fresh tears cascading down her cheeks.
To anyone else, the words would have meant nothing but to her it was a painful stab to her gut. It felt like she was standing in a dark hallway, a door letting in light and at the sight of the words, the door was slammed shut, plunging her into blackness.
An address, a date, a name.
On the paper was her hotel booking.
Chapter 21: Twenty
Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it. ~ Thomas Harris
Casey spent the next few days on autopilot. All thoughts of running had been abandoned. She didn't think that Lounds had got the booking details himself but she guessed it was from the same person that had sent him her letter. And since Kevin had also received a copy of that... The message was clear. If she ran, she would be followed. If she hid, she would be found.
She shuffled around her apartment in a daze, moving only when she needed to do something for Lachlan. Otherwise she sat motionless. She didn't sleep, she didn't eat. She just waited for the inevitable.
Joseph had returned and he came over as often as he could. These were the only occasions that Casey allowed herself to rest, fearing that if she closed her eyes when no one else was there that Lachlan would be snatched from her arms. Joseph could see something was wrong but, despite his clear disbelief when she claimed everything was fine, he opted not to press her on it. He knew that pushing the matter would make her put up more defences. Instead he kept her company as he always had done and silently tried to put together what had happened in his absence to bring on the strange behaviour.
He had an advantage most people wouldn’t have. Casey had shared a great deal with him over the course of their friendship, choosing to tell him what had happened to her rather than have the inaccurate new stories colour his opinion of her. He wasn’t foolish enough to think that he knew everything, but he knew enough. He knew about the Beast, about Dennis and Patricia. He knew about her friends who hadn’t made it out. He knew about the harassment she had endured after being freed. This knowledge gave him a foundation to develop his theories.
Really there were only two things he thought could have caused her to become so despondent and that was narrowed down to one after he spotted a flash of colour in Casey’s recycling. She was taking a nap so he took the opportunity to extract it from the bin. He frowned, taking in the crumpled comic book. Joseph flicked through the pages, taking in the images of a Casey like heroine fleeing from a looming figure. Was this what had upset her?
He glanced down at the bin and noticed scraps of paper covered with different handwriting. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should retrieve them. It was more than a bit invasive after all…
But, he rationalised, it might help him to help Casey…
Joseph pulled the bundle of letters out from the bin. They were all addressed to Casey from different people. The first few senders he didn’t recognise but the further he went, the more concerned he got. The most troubling letter was the one signed Dennis.
I apologise for the rather abrupt return into your life, I’m sure that you were hoping the separation would be a lasting one. Unfortunately, it appears that our lives have become entwined.
Kevin believes that he can convince you to aid us. I am not that naïve. However, given this opportunity, I may as well attempt to persuade you. You don’t belong in the world of the… cattle. You are something different, something strong and unique. If I may speak candidly, I’m sure that it didn’t escape your notice that I harboured… feelings for you, of sorts. And, at least at one point, I believed that you returned these feelings.
Obviously, I’m not delusional. I know that the unpleasantness of that night will have removed any traces of those that might have lingered. But, I think you should give us another chance. Without Patricia, things can be… better. This world will never understand you, not like we do. They will never treat you the way that you deserve to be treated. People do not embrace the damaged. They find any excuse to shun them, to bury them away from the rest of society. They’ll find a way to break you down and then lay the blame at your door.
Come with us. A new home, a new start.
The words disturbed Joseph and he could understand why Casey was behaving so oddly. She had always insisted that he… they were dead. Her stubbornness on the subject had always suggested to him that she needed to believe it in order to keep going. The letters… he didn’t think anyone knew enough about her to fake them. The prospect of her captor being alive and knowing where she lived was probably tearing her apart.
Joseph snapped a quick picture of each of the letters and the comic, before returning them to the bin. He considered for a moment, looking at the phone. He wanted to help Casey. It was a lead worth investigating… even if it didn’t go anywhere, he should at least mention it…
New lead – K.W.C still alive? If not him, who is sending these?
He’d typed out the text before he’d even realised what he was doing and buried the phone in his pocket. He just hoped that his dad was able to do something to help Casey.
A sharp rap came from the front door. Joseph went to answer it but before he’d gone more than a few steps, Casey emerged from her bedroom, blinking sleepily.
“I overslept… where’s Lachlan?” she asked, not noticing the boy sitting on the floor nearby. Joseph pointed and Casey sighed in relief.
Another knock at the door captured her attention and she went over, peeking through the peephole before opening it slowly. Waiting outside was a police officer, accompanied by one of the security guards who usually resided at the front entrance.
“Miss Cooke?” The officer asked.
“My name is Officer Williams. I was asked to conduct a wellness check on you.”
“We received a call, someone expressed concern that you may attempt to harm yourself. The security guard confirmed he’d not seen you leave your apartment in several days so we just wanted to make sure everything is alright.”
“I’m fine…” her words were faint, as though she couldn’t make even herself believe them anymore. “Really.”
“Ma’am, if I may say so you don’t look particularly fine…”
Casey flushed angrily. Joseph had to admit, she’d looked better. Her skin was pale, her hair lank and greasy, there were dark circles under her eyes and she’d lost weight.
“I’m fine. I have help from my neighbour. I’m clearly alive, you’ve done your job. If you could excuse me, I have to look after my son.”
The officer looked like he wanted to argue but it was clear from Casey’s expression that she wasn’t going to give. Instead, he nodded and allowed her to close the door. She slumped against it, cheek resting against the wood. The police officer’s voice could be heard faintly, talking to someone. Joseph couldn’t make out the words but they seemed to have an effect on Casey, her entire body stiffening.
She turned away and marched over to where Lachlan was sitting. He had stopped drawing and was watching with large eyes. Casey scooped him up into her arms and held him close, murmuring under her breath.
“Thank you for your help Joseph. We’ll be okay on our own now.”
Joseph started to protest but Casey ignored him, heading into her bedroom with Lachlan clutched tightly to her chest. All Joseph could do was watch and reluctantly leave the apartment.
It was an uneasy night in the two apartments. Joseph lay awake, fearing what Casey might do. He had never seen her looking so… unhinged. She was like an empty shell of her former self. Lying on his bed beside the wall, he strained his ears for any sound that might hint something was happening. But there was only silence.
When morning came, he was woken from a sleep he hadn’t meant to have by the sound of his front door opening. He padded into the kitchen to find his father with two Styrofoam cups of coffee and a box of doughnuts.
“Morning. You look like shit.”
“I didn’t sleep. And not all of us function on super invulnerability.”
Joseph sat at the table. David pushed one of the coffee cups over to him and he drank gratefully. They were silent for a few minutes, both munching doughnuts in the peace of the kitchen, before David cleared his throat.
“To business then?”
“Want to fill me in on what these letters are supposed to be about?”
“Kevin Crumb. Those letters are from some of his personalities, I think. And they seem to be recent.”
“Where did you find them?”
“In a bin.”
“Is this about Casey?” David knew Casey, albeit not very well. Since his company provided security for the building, he’d been around a few times and seen the young woman. He’d recognised her off the news and asked Joseph about her. Even from the brief bit of information his son had given him, he could tell that he was smitten with the girl.
“Yes…” Joseph admitted begrudgingly, staring into the depths of his coffee cup.
“And you’re sure that these letters aren’t from a boyfriend or anything?”
“Fairly sure, yeah. She doesn’t date. If she suddenly announced she had a boyfriend, it’d be a major red flag. Besides, she told me before some of the names of Kevin’s alters. Dennis was one.”
“Dennis is a common name.”
“And Hedwig? How many of those do you know?”
“Fair enough… but if he was back, wouldn’t she have told the police? Or you?”
“I think she’s too afraid to. I’ve never seen her like this… she’s just so broken down. I just want to help her. I want her to feel safe. If he’s not alive, if he is actually dead, great. I just… I need her to know who is sending the letters if it’s not him and the same with the comic book.”
"Well you can start with the comic, you know more about that kind of thing than I do. I'll do some digging and see what I can find out. You've got the block video feed on your computer, right?"
"Have a look through, note down any leads." David paused. "Are you going to tell her?"
"Probably not. She doesn't like asking for help, not about big things anyway. I don't think she wants people looking at her like a victim"
"That's understandable. Something like that can really shape a person's life and not always in a good way." David downed the last of his coffee. "I better get working. Playing superhero with you doesn't pay the bills unfortunately."
"At least not until the overseer gets his own film series..." Joseph joked. His dad gave a slight smile and headed for the door. He paused on the way.
"Oh did you cut your trip short by the way?"
"The motion detector on your door went off a few times. I know it's still a bit buggy so I wanted to check." David nodded at a small device fixed to the doorframe. Joseph occasionally tested security devices they were looking to introduce and the motion detector was their latest pet project. It was supposed to detect when the door was opened and log it but it was a little hit and miss.
"Might have been my fault. I left my window slightly open. The wind probably messed up the sensor"
“You know better than to leave that open while you’re away,” David chided. Joseph nodded and gave a sheepish smile as his dad left.
In her apartment, Casey heard David’s heavy footsteps and the sound made her flinch. She was pacing up and down, but paused until the sound faded. For a moment she had feared that it might be some new horror sent to torment her.
The visit from the police officer had awoken something inside of her. She had thought that running would fix her problem, and when that had failed she had hoped that it would be enough to hide away. Hopefully she would be forgotten, but no. Whoever was causing this was determined to keep going until they got whatever reaction they were hoping for. Like a cruel child poking an animal with a sharpened stick, it wouldn’t stop. And she couldn’t let her son be dragged into that.
A plan had formed in her brain, bits and pieces cobbled together in an unwieldy fashion. But it was enough. She found her phone, buried in the mess of covers that was her bed and sent a text to Joseph. She knew that she could have gone round and talked to him but it was… easier, doing it over the phone. Where she didn’t have to look him in the eye.
J, would you be able to babysit tonight?
Moments later, her phone beeped.
Are you giving up your sudden desire to be a hermit?
Ha ha. Yes. Are you free?
Yes. Why, what are you doing?
Her fingers faltered on the keys. She felt like she was stood on the edge of a cliff, about to dive off into the deep murky water below.
Believe it or not, I actually have a date…
What? Who? When? Where? Why? What?
It’s not that impossible, calm down.
I’m sorry, but you’ve gone from acting like a robot to announcing you have a date?
Okay, you want the truth? I met someone. He’s very nice, he’s sweet, but I met him at a really bad time. That dodgy reporter was hounding me, sending me letters and things… and I was having nightmares about… everything. But I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I can’t let those assholes run my life. So yes, I have a date.
Who is he?
His name is Daniel. He’s a vet.
Are you using ‘date’ as a euphemism for taking your dogs for their shots?
I… okay then. Do you want Lachlan to stay at mine?
Yes, if that’s okay?
He didn’t reply for a long time and for a while she wasn’t sure if he was going to. Then, after what felt like hours, her phone beeped once more.
The sight of the single word made her heart skip a beat. Butterflies were forming in her stomach and she felt slightly nauseous but she couldn’t allow it to get to her. She had things to do.
If anyone had looked in through the windows that day, they would have seen Casey behaving like she didn’t have a care in the world. She showered and carefully did her hair. She even put on make up. She selected some dark clothes, form fitting, and packed a small bag for Lachlan. When she dropped him off, Joseph seemed surprised that she actually looked like she was going for a date. She did her best to behave normally towards him but perhaps he noticed. Her touch on his hand when she thanked him lingered just a little longer than normal, her eyes shone just a bit too manically.
But he didn’t say anything and instead, ushered the young boy inside. Casey returned to her own apartment briefly. She gave both of the dogs a gentle scratch behind the ears, placed a sealed envelope on the coffee table, grabbed her bag and jacket before finally leaving the apartment, locking the door behind her.
Chapter 22: Twenty One
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ~ Nelson Mandela
Returning to the train yard was like entering a nightmare. Casey tried to keep herself calm but with every step that took her closer, her heartbeat spiked. She stopped more than once, turned around to leave at one point before sternly ordering herself to continue. It was just a place. Places didn’t have any power, only what she allowed them to have.
She had prepared carefully. Her clothing was tight enough that nothing would get snagged if she had to run but still allowed her free movement. She had washed with unscented soaps, knowing a synthetic smell would only serve to pinpoint her location. In her bag were three items – wire cutters, her pistol and the dart she had stolen from the zoo. She knew from experience that the pistol would do little more than slow the Beast down, unless perhaps she managed a headshot, but she hoped the cocktail of sedatives would have a more lasting effect. The only downside was she hadn’t planned far enough ahead to secure a dart gun. Which meant she would have to stick it in the old fashioned way.
Casey reached the fence that bordered the yard and began to search for a suitable point to enter. She had gone only a few feet along when she found a crude hole cut into the wire. It was large enough for a person to squeeze through, although not one of the Beast’s stature. Had someone been there before her?
It was easy enough to wriggle through the gap into the yard. It was still early enough that Casey felt she had some time before the Beast showed up. If he showed up at all… she really had no idea what his habits were.
It didn’t matter. She’d stay there until he came. It didn’t matter if it took days.
She decided to use the opportunity to get a better sense of the environment. The Beast had an advantage there, he knew the terrain and was used to it. He knew the best places to hide, to gain height, to launch an attack.
You’re being reckless Casey. Leave, come back when you’ve had more time to plan.
She ignored the nagging doubt at the back of her head and crept across the gravel to investigate her surroundings. Litter was scattered around and she tried to make careful note of anything that might make a noise. The empty train carriages walled her in, slumbering giants that loomed over her. She didn’t want to go near them, remembering all too vividly her last encounter in one of them but she knew that if it came to it, those would be the best places to hide. Most of them had the windows broken in and if she’d had a dart gun, she would have opted to base herself inside and attempt to hit the Beast from there, like a hunter in a shelter.
Reluctantly, she headed over to the nearest carriage and began to scope out the interior. It was getting harder to keep her panic at bay, especially when confronted with a scene that the monsters in her head terrorized her in nightly. The smell was horrendous.
A putrid stench of mould, damp, oil, stale air and rotting meat. Layered over it was the sharp coppery tang of fresh blood and it was that which made Casey pause. She could see no sign of life, but she could tell that someone had been there recently.
From within the depths of the carriage there came a steady dripping noise. She tried to rationalise it. The roof had holes in it, some rain had probably got in. But she couldn't quite convince herself that was the case.
She crept further in. Something crunched under foot and she stooped to examine it. A few fragments of broken glass accompanied by a round strip of black plastic. A lens?
Curiosity rising, Casey moved slowly forward. She became aware of a soft groaning from somewhere within the depths of the carriage and she bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood. Steeling herself, she approached the source of the noise. It was difficult to make out in the darkness but as her eyes adjusted, she began to decipher shapes from the shadows.
In what had once served as the luggage rack, a body was now slumped. A broken torch lay discarded on the ground beneath it, cracked and useless. Casey hadn’t brought a torch. She knew it would only bring the Beast’s attention to her. Whoever had dared to trespass in his lair hadn’t been as thoughtful.
She looked up at the figure. They were still alive, chest fluttering weakly, but Casey could tell they wouldn’t survive much longer. One arm hung down limply, wrist to elbow a mangled mess of flesh where the Beast had savaged it. Similar wounds were scattered across the rest of the body in a haphazard way. The injuries were targeted in non-vital areas. The Beast had been deliberate in his actions. He wasn’t trying to kill the intruder quickly. This wasn’t a kill out of hunger or even territory. He had toyed with the intruder, hunting him down just for the fun of it.
Her foot connected with something hard and she paused. A camera, only just visible underneath a seat. Casey picked it up, surprised by the weight of it. The lens was busted but otherwise it appeared well cared for and looked professional. As she was fiddling with it, her finger accidentally pressed a button and the flash went off, bathing the carriage in light. She blinked away spots, eyes flitting around. The brief illumination allowed her to see the body in more detail. The face was badly lacerated, strips of flesh hanging haphazardly. One eye was swollen shut, livid red slashes bisecting it. The wounds rendered them almost unrecognizable. Chunks of hair had been torn out at the roots, leaving patchy raw scarlet scalp exposed beneath.
Casey gagged violently, suppressing the urge to vomit as best she could. She retreated hurriedly, rushing to the exit. The person let out a rasping groan, no doubt the last noise they would manage that would be heard. Casey leant against the side of the train carriage, the cool metal oddly comforting after the warm stale interior and the horrors it held. She tried to think clinically. The Beast was nothing more than an animal. He had cached the body for later consumption like a leopard or a bear. He had an established territory that he guarded and a range that he covered to hunt. With the exception of the victim in the train, he had a set pattern of stalk, capture, hold, kill. But despite telling herself that he was just an animal, she couldn’t shake the image of the mutilated body. No animal behaved with such sadistic delight.
From nearby came a clang of metal. Casey went still. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. He was coming.
Panic flooded Casey’s senses and she sprinted to a narrow alcove between two storage containers, squeezing herself into the darkened space. Her heart was racing and the full realisation of what was about to happen struck her. How did she think she could go up against the Beast? Images from their last encounter were flashing before her eyes. She suddenly felt very small and very vulnerable. Her legs seized up and she was frozen to the spot. He would tear her apart…
She peeked through the gap, trying to work out where he was. The shadows played tricks on her eyes, distorting the world around her. There could have been a hundred beasts lurking nearby and she wouldn't have known.
A movement caught her eye. Near the carriage that seemed to form his den. Of course he would go there first. In her mind she plotted his path. Scale the fence, clamber across the roofs of the carriages so he could survey his domain, drop down through one of the larger holes into his nest. Reclaim his home turf before exiting through the broken train doors into the wider yard.
“I know you’re here. I can smell you.” His voice was soft and almost melodic, carrying across the stillness to Casey’s ears. She trembled, pressing herself tighter against the metal. “I know your scent.”
Don’t run, he’ll chase you down. If you stay hidden, he will eventually find you. Do not let him control the situation.
“I will find you…”
She could see him prowling across the train yard. It would only be a matter of time.
Casey carefully wriggled out of her hiding place and stepped into view. The Beast paused, lip curling into a smirk. He let out a soft purr at the sight of her.
He began to circle her, moving closer with every revolution. He let out a low noise, a sort of hoarse yell that emerged from the depths of his throat. It took Casey a moment but she realised he was mimicking animal mating behaviour. She held her ground, balancing on the balls of her feet, watching him intently. She couldn’t let this be like last time.
When he drew close enough, she lunged forward, baring her teeth and growling loudly. He jerked backwards, surprised by her action.
“I am not yours,” she snarled.
The Beast’s expression changed ever so slightly, regarding her with curiosity. He made the noise again, softer this time. She growled again, forcing the unnatural sound with as much aggression as she could manage.
“I am NOT yours,” she repeated.
He growled and stepped forward, choosing to ignore her display. Casey took a deep breath and threw herself at him, crashing her weight against the Beast with all her energy. It wasn’t enough to knock him down but he took a stumbling step back, more out of shock than anything else. His arms automatically moved to grab hold of her, supporting her weight. Casey hooked her legs around his waist and brought her hands up to claw at his face. He let out an anguished roar in response, gripping tighter and forcing her off of him. He hurled her across the yard, sending her crashing to the floor in a heap.
Casey blinked, body crying out in pain from the impact, and struggled to her feet. Images from last time danced before her eyes. Stay on your feet. If he gets you down, he wins.
The Beast had dropped to all fours and was bounding towards her. Casey squared her shoulders and let out a rage filled scream.
To her surprise, the Beast skidded to a halt, gravel spraying around him as he did. He crouched in front of her, watching her with wild darting eyes. Casey’s hands shook, a strange exhilaration running through her veins. She pulled the dart from her bag, clasping it firmly.
“I am not yours,” she told him, trying to keep her voice steady. “You are a monster who ruined my life. And I am done letting you hurt me.”
Casey took a step forward, raising the dart. At the sight of it, the peculiar hold that kept him in place broke and he snarled, surging forward again. His shoulder collided with her legs and once more she was knocked back. The syringe slipped from her fingers and as she searched the ground frantically, he moved over her. His weight pressed down on her and Casey felt like her throat was closing up. Not again. Not again.
“We are the same. You can fight it but you can never get rid of it. We are connected,” he told her, the guttural words chilling her to the bone.
Her searching fingers found something hard and smooth. Not the dart. The camera. She pressed down, setting the flash off. The momentary burst of light illuminated the surroundings and she spotted the syringe inches from her. She grabbed hold of it and looked up to face the Beast.
“C…Casey?” he blinked, his voice suddenly soft and childlike.
“What’s going on?” he asked, sitting back. Casey bit her lip, trying to work out if it was some kind of trick.
Don’t worry about that now.
“I’m sorry Hedwig,” she said, bringing the dart up and jamming it into his neck.
His face creased in confusion and hurt. Slowly, his body went limp and he slumped on top of her. She wriggled out from underneath him and sat on the dirt. She looked over at the figure, breathing slowly. She had no idea if the dosage would kill him. If he came round, she didn’t know what she would do. Really, she realised, she’d come to the train yard expecting to die.
“What do I do now?” she murmured.
“You probably should have thought about that a little earlier,” came a voice from behind her.