Which meant he must be driving.
When the car hit a pothole I bit my tongue. Blood filled my mouth. I tried to spit but my mouth was covered: by what, I didn’t know. I sent messages to my arms and legs, begging them to move, to struggle, but nothing happened. I imagined myself contorting my limbs, arching and twisting against whatever restrained me, but I was loose and limp. A doll tossed around in a bored child’s toy chest, powerless to move.
He must have taken me from my home—my room—while my family slept, unsuspecting.
What had happened to John?
Tears squeezed out of the corners of my eyes. The texture of the trunk’s interior made my skin itch and burn. The muscles in my arms and legs wouldn’t move, which meant I must be drugged.
But how? We ate at the restaurant, not at home. I rewound the past hour in my mind but my thoughts were blurry and I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t.
The car stopped. That was when my slow, sluggish heart finally charged to life. It beat against every inch of my skin. I was soaked in sweat.
A car door slammed. Footsteps crunched on gravel. I lay there, helpless and hopeless, slimy and miserable. Fear made me an animal and my primitive brain could do nothing but play dead.
The trunk opened; I heard it and felt it and then realized that I still couldn’t see, which meant that I was blindfolded. I listened—there was water around us. It lapped against something nearby.
I felt big, meaty hands on my body, which was completely limp. I was shackled by terror. I was lifted out of the trunk and I felt bulging, thick muscles against my flesh.
“Shame,” a voice whispered then. “It’s so much more fun when you fight.”
It was Jude, absolutely.
There was pressure in my head—I must be upside-down. I moaned weakly, but there was nowhere for the sound to go.
And then I was set right side up, propped and arranged in a chair with my arms behind me, chafing against the back. My knees, thighs, calves ached. Smells and sounds—brine and salt, rot and water—were sharp, but thoughts were difficult.
My blindfold was slipped off, then, and I saw him. He looked older than I remembered, but otherwise the same. Bright green eyes. Dirty blond hair. Dimples. And two whole, intact hands. So harmless.
My eyes drank in the details of my surroundings and absorbed them like a sponge. We were in some kind of boathouse. There were life preservers stacked against one wall, two kayaks lying across another, and an old, rusty sign that read IDLE SPEED, NO WAKE propped up in a corner. It was well maintained, with a thick coat of grey paint slapped on, obscuring any flaws. There was one door. Jude was in front of it.
I scanned the room wildly for some kind of weapon. Then I remembered: I was one.
It was him or me. I imagined him being gutted, a slash of blood stretching across his stomach. I imagined him in agony.
“So,” Jude said.
I wanted to spit in his face at the sound of his voice. I would, I decided, if he ripped the gag off.
“Did you miss me? Nod for yes, shake your head for no.” His smile was an open sore.
A sour taste coated my tongue, but I swallowed, and imagined my fear going with it.
Jude sighed then, and his shoulders sagged with the movement. “This is the problem. I would like to talk to you, but if I rip the tape off, you’ll scream.”
I sure as shit will.
“There’s no one around who would hear you, and I’d get a kick out of it once, it’s true, but it would get on my nerves after a while. So what do I do?” He looked up at the ceiling. Ran his hand over his chin. “I could say that if you scream, I will slit Joseph’s throat in his bed when we’re finished here?” He withdrew something from his pocket. A box cutter. His watch glinted in the low light.
It was as if I’d been punched in the stomach. I coughed.
“Easy there, tiger,” he said, and winked.
He needed to die. He had to. I turned the image over in my mind. Jude, bleeding out, dying. I rewound it, again and again. Please.
“Yeah, that should work.” He took something out of his other pocket—a key. He held it up. “For good measure, remember that I can get into and out of your house whenever I want. I can drug everyone in your family and kill them while they sleep. Or make your parents watch me kill Daniel and Joseph? Anyway, I don’t know, there are a lot of options and I hate multiple choice. So let’s just say—there’s a lot I could do which I will do if you scream, and taking you was so easy I could laugh.” A smile appeared and a wholesome dimple deepened in his baby-smooth cheek.
I was disgusted by him and disgusted by myself. How did I get here? How did I let this thing in human skin chew his way into my life? How did I miss this? How could I not know?
“You understand? Nod yes if you understand.”
I nodded, my eyes brimming over with tears.
“If you scream without my permission, you will kill your family. Nod yes if you understand.”
I nodded and felt bile rise in my throat. I was going to choke.
“Okay,” he said smiling, “here we go. This might hurt a little.”
And then he ripped the duct tape from my mouth. I retched onto the slatted floor: that was when I noticed there was water beneath it. The ocean? A lake?
The ocean. I smelled salt.
Jude shook his head. “Gross, Mara.” He looked at me the way you would at a puppy for soiling a newspaper. “What am I going to do with you?” Jude looked around the room. His eyes settled on something. A mop. He stood up and cleaned the mess from the weathered wooden slats.
Trying to kill him was useless. He lived through the collapse somehow and anything I tried would fail. Jude realized it, because when he looked at me, he wasn’t at all afraid.
But even if I couldn’t kill him, I wasn’t powerless. I heard Noah’s defiant voice echo in my mind.
“Don’t let your fear own you,” he had said. “Own yourself.”
Jude wanted something from me, otherwise I’d be dead already.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t let him get it.
“I asked you a question,” Jude said, when he was finished. “You can answer.”
He wanted me to answer, so I stayed silent.
Something hardened in his face and I was glad, because he finally looked the way someone who bound and gagged and kidnapped someone was supposed to look.
“What am I going to do with you?” he asked again, his voice quieter and infinitely more horrifying. “Look at me,” he said then.
Own yourself. I looked away.
Then he came close and pinched my cheek. “Look at me.”