a/n: Well, I just spent the entire day researching French and Chinese education from 1750 to 1850, to do my essay. Which, I might add, has to be written completely in French. THE HORROR!
In the darkness of midnight, a window opened and a curtain fluttered. Coldness seeped in for a moment, before the window was closed once more.
The Downs residence was peaceful. All lights were off. All were asleep.
In the shadows, two men crept soundlessly across the carpeted living room, careful to manoeuvre around the lamps and armchairs and avoid making any noise. The men were dressed in black, faces covered by plain masks. One man fingered a syringed filled with a strange liquid. The other held a blindfold in his hands.
Together, they moved swiftly and stealthily up the stairs, barely making a disturbance in the peacefulness of the quaint little house.
The hushed creak of an opening door. Two pairs of footsteps entering a teenage girl’s bedroom. Closer they came, advancing noiselessly towards the double bed, where a girl’s relaxed form lay. She had curly brown hair that draped over her pillow, and her expression was serene.
Then a hand clamped forcefully over her mouth. The girl woke with a start, her frightened squealing muffled. Her eyes were wide and flicked between her two attackers. The man who held her mouth pinned her arms to the bed while the other brandished his syringe, its contents glowing in the moonlight.
With vigour, he stabbed the needle into the girl’s shoulder, making her shriek loudly. But within seconds, her tense muscles relaxed and her body became limp. Once again, her eyes closed peacefully. Carefully, they fixed a blindfold to her eyes and tossed her over one of their shoulders, as though she was a doll.
As quickly as possible, they tiptoed downstairs with their victim fast asleep, and swiftly left the Downs residence.
Little did they know, Luma was watching them from the bushes. Despite the face of the unconscious girl being hidden, Luma knew that it was Ashlinn.
She kept her eyes on the two sneaky men leaving her friend’s house. Attempting not to draw attention to herself, Luma looked down at the screen of her phone, which illuminated her worried face.
Fri 5:19 pm: Meet me at midnight. I want us to investigate further into the Association. –Ash
Well, she’d come a little earlier than midnight, though it seemed that these men had gotten to Ashlinn first.
The men looked around, searching for any spectators, and Luma quickly snapped her phone shut. Finding nothing, they moved over to a large black car with a big boot. One man opened the door to the boot, still checking over his shoulder agitatedly, while the other unceremoniously chucked Ashlinn into the car.
Luma gulped. This was not good.
She realised that she was faced with a dilemma – she could either call the police, or she could follow the men herself. If she followed them, she could find out if they were part of the Association, and if this had anything to do with the weird room that both Dan and Ashlinn had been talking about. But if she called the police, she would never know…
It wasn’t a very responsible decision, but Luma had already made up her mind. She was going to follow these men, and she would rescue her friend… and also get answers.
As the men got in the car and started up the engine, Luma mounted her bike, gripping the handlebars determinedly. The car pulled out quietly, and then sped down Maple Drive with barely a rumble, Luma and her bike trailing silently after it.
Inside the car, Ashlinn felt horrible. Her muscles were aching terribly and her lips felt like they were shut together. The bed she lay in was itchy and hard, and where was her blanket?
Still sleepy, she attempted to open her eyes, and was met with complete darkness. It surprised her. Usually there was still some light in her room, even at midnight, coming from the amber streetlights outside. But there was no light – at least nothing she could see.
Was she wearing her sleeping mask?
And suddenly, she realised what had happened to her. Memories came tumbling back to her – of masked men coming to her in the night, of a needle painfully stabbing her…
Her senses sharpened. The air smelled like petrol. There was a blindfold over her eyes, and thick rope binding her hands together.
Ashlinn raised her tied hands to her head, dragging the blindfold off. She lay in the boot of a car, she realised. Her heart began to race in panic – where were they taking her?
Bars separated the boot from the driver and passenger seats. The car vibrated softly as it travelled down a road Ashlinn could not recognise. She was cautious not to alert the men to her awakening.
Gulping, Ashlinn slowly jiggled her hands around. The hold that the ropes had on her wrists was quite loose – obviously, the men had been quite careless – and they slipped down her hands after a while. Ashlinn’s first thought was to inspect the spot where the needle had been stabbed into her skin, so she did.
Pulling her sleeve up, she let her fingers ghost over the wound. It was worse than she’d thought; the skin around it was slightly swollen and tinted a sickly shade of green and purple, like a bad bruise. The puncture was easy to spot, because it was surrounded by a ring of irritated skin, coloured a violent red.
She sighed softly, letting her sleeve fall back over her wound. When she got out of this situation, she would need to get it looked at.
But how would she get out? Every idea, every plan that Ashlinn could formulate had some sort of fatal flaw. And besides, she was becoming sleepy again… pleasantly drowsy…
The men began talking. Ashlinn forced herself to stay awake as long as possible – their conversations might be important. She strained to hear their hushed, quiet voices.
“What are we going to do with the girl?” the driver asked in a gruff voice.
“Well, we only have three choices, don’t we?” the other man, one with a smooth voice, said. “Kill her, blackmail her…”
“Or put her in the Cage,” Gruff finished. Ashlinn could almost hear the excited grin in the way he spoke.
Smooth chuckled. “That would be fun, wouldn’t it? Actually, all options would be fun. But let us consider our choice carefully…”
“I don’t care whichever we choose. I’ll let you figure it out,” Gruff growled.
Smooth then began what Ashlinn could only describe as a monologue, since Gruff never interjected, and he probably wasn’t listening, either. Ashlinn prayed to all listening deities that Smooth would not choose to kill her… Then, she would have no hope.
In her bleary state, she barely managed to understand Smooth. She was so tired, so very tired…
“By killing her or throwing her in the Cage, there will possibly be something in the news. People might make connections between her trip to the Association and her disappearance.”
Ashlinn felt chills run down her spine. The reality of the situation seemed to crash down on her only then; it was possible – no, it was extremely likely – that she would never see her friends again, nor her parents, nor her school, nor anyone or anything she cared about.
“On the other hand,” Smooth murmured, “if we blackmail her, she might still tell the police that she thinks the Association is suspicious and worth investigation.”
“Wait,” Gruff interrupted suddenly. “The Downs girl. She has a brother. I noticed it while we were watching her… I think she was already on the lookout for something suspicious during the Open Day, and so was the brother. There’s no doubt that he’ll be suspecting the Association, so we need to get him too.”
“Yes, I agree. I think we should put the girl into the Cage, and then we’ll go back to get her brother. Then we’ll put him into the Cage, too,” Smooth planned.
“Sounds good,” Gruff grunted.
They drove once more in silence. As Ashlinn began to fall asleep, her head hit the side of the car, gently enough to not cause harm but loudly enough for the car to stop abruptly. Both men’s heads swerved to the boot of the car, where Ashlinn was in dismay.
They pushed open the doors and stepped outside. For a moment, Ashlinn was filled with hope, thinking that perhaps the men would abandon her and leave her to find her way back home. But then they opened the boot door, letting in the sharp bite of chilly air, and stabbed her with another syringe.
This time, Ashlinn felt her senses sharpen and her mind wake with alertness. The problem was that all of her muscles seized up, frozen in place, and she could make only minimal movements.
“That’s better,” said Smooth, satisfied. “No attempts at escape from you.”
And then they slammed the door to the boot shut, leaving a frozen and terrified Ashlinn to lie in the boot.
Luma was outside, grasping the handles of her bike tightly. As soon as she saw the car stop, she’d hidden behind a large streetlight and watched as the men injected Ashlinn with some strange liquid. The effects were obvious – her body straightened up and she didn’t make a single movement.
“Poor Ashlinn,” Luma whispered.
As the car started up, Luma continued to tail it, until half an hour later they came to their destination.
The Association looked quite ominous at night. The oak trees surrounding the building were stationary and dark, standing solidly by the doors like castle guards. Lights were scarce, meaning that the outside was barely illuminated.
Night workers must like the dark, Luma mused, quietly getting off her bike and setting it down by a tree. She slipped her phone into her pocket, readjusted her jacket and manoeuvred around the garbage area.
The men had pulled up near the entrance. They came out of the car, murmuring in low voices, and they opened the boot to take out Ashlinn, who was asleep – or just looked asleep.
Luma crouched behind a large garbage bin. Her nose wrinkled at the acrid stench of old rubbish – and who knew what type of strange substances they threw in there? Rats scurried in and out of the shadows cast by the large bins.
As soon as the men scanned their key card to open the front doors, Luma moved away from her hiding place and sprinted behind a large tree nearer to the doors. Desperately, she looked down at the ground around her and picked up a mud-coated stick. Careful to time it carefully, she threw the stick over to the open doorway and grinned in satisfaction when the doors closed around it, leaving about a centimetre open.
The men noticed nothing, and no alarms went off. The Association’s security system needed to be updated, but at least it had worked in Luma’s favour.
Luma waited ten seconds before tiptoeing away from her hiding place. Out in the open, exposed to any who watched the grounds, Luma felt afraid. But there was adrenaline running through her body, and the desire to get her friend back, and that was more than enough to encourage her. With confidence, she wrenched the doors open and slipped through, kicking the stick away.
The atrium was dimly lit and void of people, except for Luma, the two men and Ashlinn. The windows on the roof permitted Luma to see the brilliant stars of the sky above, and she almost stopped to look at it, but she was reminded of her goal as the two men began snapping at each other.
Their footsteps echoed throughout the wide, open space. Luma was careful to step lightly on the marble floor and make as little noise as possible.
The men continued their way through plant-lined atrium, until they turned left into a corridor. Luma kept her distance, while making sure that Gruff, Smooth and Ashlinn stayed in her sights.
For five minutes, the four of them navigated around the complicated labyrinth of corridors and hallways, confusing Luma. At some stage, the men stopped in front of a door, labelled Janitor’s Storeroom.
They opened the door. It swung open easily, and much too fast for Luma, Gruff grabbed Ashlinn’s limp form and chucked her into the room. Luma gasped – and she realised her mistake too late.
The two men turned to Luma, grinning at the sight of a new target.
“Stupid girl,” said Gruff. “Now you’re going to go join your little friend. And then, we’re going to get her brother. It’ll be a party.”
“Not if I can help it,” Luma spat with false bravado.
But she was too slow, and the men caught up to her easily, grabbing her arms forcefully. There would be bruises there later.
They dragged her away, ignoring her kicking and screaming. Their hands were strong and calloused, giving no mercy to Luma’s thin arms. And before she knew it, they were throwing her into the Cage.
to be continued…