Imaginary Fiend: Blood Rose
Disclaimer: ©Michael Robertson, January 22 2019
Chapter VIII – The Deal
“I believe, this puts you in check.”
Ollie Poer stared at his older brother. He could feel his teeth grind. How could he have been so blind? He’d actually felt thankful for his brother’s intervention.
Rexl never did anything unless it benefited him, Ollie should have known. Rexl didn’t care about the girls, they were just tools. Ollie looked to Rose; she looked back, a blank expression ghosting her features.
What could he do? Rexl was right, he had them all against the wall. Ollie looked over to the men restraining Megan; they didn’t appear to be hurting her, but they wouldn’t let her go, either.
“What happens now,” the Psychiatrist asked his older brother.
“Now, you give up this foolish rebellion and get back to work. I’ve warned you once before, haven’t I? Fall in line, or I’ll kill you here and now.”
“I don’t doubt it. You really wouldn’t have any qualms with killing your own brother, would you?”
“Don’t test me, Ollie.” That response was all the proof he needed. Rexl knew no remorse, he knew no mercy, he was in full control of this situation.
Ollie had no choice, it was like his brother had said: Rexl had the upper hand, and Ollie was at his mercy. “What do you want?” Ollie asked, submissive, defeated.
“You know what I want. Return what is mine. Hand over the girl.”
“And then what?”
“And then nothing.”
Ollie stepped away from his brother, placing an arm protectively around Rose’s shoulder.
“That girl belongs to me,” Rexl reminded him. “Kindly return her to her rightful owner.”
Rightful owner? Surely he didn’t really think that way.
Ollie was doing it again, overestimating his brother’s humanity.
“Look, it’s simple,” Rexl said. “I’ll make a deal with you: Give me Rose, and I’ll let you keep Megan.”
“Just like that?”
“The younger girl is a case study, is she not? I would still like somebody to observe her.”
“So what, I give you Rose back and everything just goes back to normal?”
“You do care about Megan, don’t you? It’s time to decide which one of those girls is closer to your heart, which one you truly care about. Ideally, I would prefer to keep them both here at the facility, but Project Rose will continue with or without that girl beside you.”
Rexl glanced to the girl in question for the briefest of moments.
“She was to be my crowning glory,” Rexl continued, “but it’s the project, not the girl, that matters. She,” he gestured to the red-haired girl that Ollie held protectively under his arm, “the girl herself,” he turned to Rose once more, looking dismissively into her eyes as he said the words, those unbelievable words; Ollie could hardly believe that he’d heard him right; “You, are expendable.”
Rexl turned back to Ollie. “They are all expendable,” he said. “They are research subjects, specimens, nothing more. It doesn’t really matter who bears the crown of my legacy, be it Megan or Rose.
“Here’s the deal,” he continued. “You hand over Rose, and we all go back to work. We’ll just pretend this little incident didn’t happen.”
“Just like that? Forgive and forget? That’s not like you, Rexl.”
“Obviously, safeguards will need to be in place; my generosity can only stretch so far, and we need to ensure that his never happens again. You will be under scrutiny. Both you and Megan would be placed under constant surveillance, and neither of you would be permitted to have any further contact with Rose; but for all intents and purposes, things would be back to normal.”
All things considered, that was more than Ollie could have hoped for. On the other hand, accepting the gift from his brother’s clawed hand would signify his utter failure. Everything they’d done, everything that had transpired tonight, every ounce of pain that Megan and Rose had suffered, everything they had been forced to endure; it would all have been for nothing. It also meant that Rose would be alone once again, even more than she had been before, without even Megan to drop in on her; isolated completely.
Ollie felt her presence, felt her gripping his arm; the one thing Rexl hadn’t explained: What would become of her? Without Kayla, who would be her overseer, would Rexl take her personally, or would he find another sociopathic scientist to take over? This facility had no shortage of them, that was for sure.
“What about Rose?”
“That is not your concern. You give me Rose, I give you Megan back; that’s the deal. What happens to her after that is none of your business.”
“It is my business. She’s here because of me! Whatever happens to her, it’s my fault.”
“Indeed. I’m sure that will be a comfort to her when she endures what is to come. You wanted to help her; at the very least you’ll become someone to blame, someone she can hate. If nothing else, that will motivate her to survive.”
Ollie gave a dark laugh. “You already found a way to profit from this, didn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t be in charge if I didn’t know how to play all the angles. You seem to be under the impression that I wasn’t expecting your treachery. Don’t underestimate me Ollie, you know how it irritates me.”
Would Rose be punished for what transpired here tonight? From the way Rexl was talking, it seemed all but certain.
Rose seemed to be thinking along the same lines. She gripped Ollie tighter, as though feeling some form of comfort from him. It was strange, she’d seemed so independent until now. Was she afraid of Rexl, of what he might do, or have done to her? The girl seemed so vulnerable.
“Daddy!” Megan called out, “don’t do it, don’t take his deal!” It appeared all three of them were in agreement. “You know you can’t trust him!”
Megan had a point, but what alternative did they have?
“What if I say no?”
Rexl looked at his younger brother long and hard.
“I have an alternate deal,” he finally said. “You can take Rose and leave. I won’t try to stop you, but if you go, you’ll be leaving Megan behind. You’ll never see her again.”
“I just told you, these girls are expendable. They are all replaceable, I have Rose’s replacement already.”
“Right. You already know this. Megan was always intended to be Rose’s replacement, in case anything happened to the original. Megan was my backup, in case Rose died, or escaped.”
So, Rexl had been prepared for this eventuality. He’d dismissed their humanity, their individuality, without a second thought, just like that.
“Those two men, who were they?”
“They worked for me, obviously. A rather unscrupulous sort, but they served their purpose.”
“Their purpose? To torture and traumatise your daughter?”
“To prevent anyone from leaving the island, in the unlikely event that they actually managed to escape the forest. You should be proud, Ollie. I never expected you to make it this far. Of course, your grand attempt did ultimately end in failure; neither of your precious cargo made it out in pristine condition. This olive branch I’m offering you is the only chance you have; I suggest you take it.”
“So I can stay with Megan, and you take Rose; or I can take Rose, and you keep Megan. Either way, one of them will suffer. Either way, you win.”
“And you lose,” Rexl finished the younger brother’s thought.
How did Ollie know he could trust Rexl? Would he really keep his word?
“I can’t believe you’d just let me walk out with Rose, with your ‘legacy.’” Ollie spat the word as though it were poison.
“As I said, the girl’s not my legacy, she’s simply a tool through which I would achieve it; the girl is replaceable, that’s why I had Megan brought here. Please, we’ve been through this already.”
“And here I thought Megan was here to distract me, to keep me in line. Hell, that’s what you’re doing right now isn’t it, dangling Megan in front of me like a baited hook so I wont take your true prize from you?”
“Look around you, Oliver; I hold all the cards, I have nearly all my pieces on the board; you have only your king, and he’s surrounded. You can’t call my bluff, Ollie, because I don’t make them. I don’t play games of chance.
“You’re right though, I’ll give you that; I did place Megan on the board for you, to keep you in line, to give you a reason to go on; and it worked. I knew you’d need something to live for, you were practically falling apart after the death of your wife.”
“After you had her killed, you mean.”
“That wasn’t my intent. We only wanted your child; we warned her, she resisted; she made the wrong call. Please don’t interrupt.
“I knew you’d need something to live for, someone to care for. You needed a reason to pull yourself together, and with Megan’s inherent ability for manipulation, she was the perfect candidate. You needed each other.
“That wasn’t her only purpose however, that was simply a temporary role. I always intended her to be a backup. I knew you would keep her safe until she was needed. I also knew you wouldn’t be able to forget about Rose, not completely. You’ve always been so paternal.
“Now, Ollie. It’s time to choose. You can have Megan, or you can have Rose; but you can’t have them both. Make a decision, and quickly; or I’ll take everything from you, including your life.”
Ollie’s eyes widened. His own brother had just threatened to kill him, and Ollie knew he meant it. It was fitting, after all. He’d taken his wife, his daughter, his freedom; why shouldn’t he have his life as well? It was foolishly romantic in a way, but that wouldn’t help anyone.
Ollie could choose to save one of these girls from a life of misery; he owed it to them to take that chance; he couldn’t throw it away and condemn them both to hell on earth. The flip-side of that of course, was that he could only save one. Whichever girl he left behind would be forced to endure the remainder of their hard life as a caged animal, a specimen. The question was: Which one? Who should he choose to save, and whom should he abandon?
It was a cruel choice. He owed it to both of them, but how could he make that kind of decision?
“It’s okay, Daddy.” Ollie looked up. In the distance, he saw Megan, a resigned look on her face, a sad smile. “You promised to save her. Take her and run. Take her home, I’ll be alright.”
“Is she…?” was Megan seriously sacrificing her freedom, her happiness, maybe even her life, for Rose?
“I’m supposed to be her replacement, right? I’ll take her place here, and she can have mine, with you. You already saved me from those two, now save Rose!”
Megan knew he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to decide their fate, so she had decided for him. It was better that someone be free, than no one.
Was this okay? Could he stand by and let Megan go, let her be swallowed up by the same loneliness that was consuming her when they’d found each other in the dark that night?
It was… Ollie swallowed; it was the only way. They both knew it.
Ollie gripped Rose by the arm.
“So, this is your decision?” Rexl asked.
“Wait, what?” Rose interjected, sounding as though she were in a daze. She probably couldn’t believe what was going on, what was being done on her behalf.
She was the beneficiary of another’s sacrifice; that was quite a burden to bear. Both Ollie and Rose, Megan was setting them free; they’d have to prove themselves worthy of her sacrifice.
Ollie looked into the brunette’s eyes. She stared at him, the sad smile still gracing her features, the look of a solemn goodbye.
“I hope you’ve made the right choice, Ollie,” Rexl warned. “Don’t regret your decision.”
“What a moot point that is. There’s no way I won’t regret it, but I have to do this. I made a promise.”
“Very well. Just so you know, I will get her back eventually; have no delusions to the contrary.”
Ollie heeded his brother’s warning. He’d have to watch out for Rose and her family, they may need to go into hiding. If they reached the same fate as his wife and daughter, Ollie would never forgive himself. He’d be putting them in harms way, and Megan’s noble sacrifice would have been for nothing.
He couldn’t let that happen, he wouldn’t. He steeled his resolve, it would take everything he had to leave Megan, but it had to be done.
This was the only way.
He looked back into Megan’s eyes, she knew what she was doing, she understood everything. She knew exactly what he was thinking, she always knew.
“I’m sorry,” he voiced.
“Goodbye, Daddy,” the girl replied. “I love you.”
“I love you too, always… until I die.”
It was done.
It was time to leave.
Ollie fastened his hold on the Redhead and took off.
Ollie left the cave, stepping out into the open world of the island beyond the forest, pulling the lithe redhead behind him, once more feeling like she was slowing him down.
“Wait,” she called.
“What is it?” Ollie asked.
“Is this really okay? You left her behind. She trusted you, and you abandoned her.”
Ollie grit his teeth. “Do you think I don’t know that!” he snapped, looking her in the eye, still dragging her behind him.
Rose didn’t shy away the way Megan would have; she kept his gaze. “Why?” she asked, voice defiant, eyes imploring.
Ollie turned away from her, from those eyes, looking straight ahead. “This is the only way.”
“But you left her there.”
“Would you rather be in her place?”
“Good. Megan knew what she was doing. You heard her, it was her decision.”
“That’s a cop-out, doctor.”
Was Rose the voice of his conscience? “I know that. Rexl plays a cruel game; that was an impossible choice for me to make, so Megan made it for me. She gave me an out, so I took it. Call me a coward, but it was the only option I saw.”
“I just…” Rose sighed, breaking out of his hold. Ollie stopped, turning to face her once more. “I can’t believe you would choose me over her.”
Ollie approached, placing an arm around her, speaking softly.
“I didn’t choose you over her.” Rose stared at him, wide-eyed, not understanding. “It’s not about making a choice; this is all part of Rexl’s game. You heard him, right? He’s not just going to let you go. He’s not playing by the rules, so why should we?”
“What are you saying, exactly?”
“You think I chose you? No, there was no choice. I simply took the only sensible path. Rexl is going to come after you eventually, so we have to make sure you stay safe and hidden. You can’t do anything to attract attention.
“Rexl isn’t going to give up on recapturing you, so we can’t give up on saving Megan.”
“But… how can you save her?”
“I’m not saying it will be easy, but I can’t give up; I owe her. I didn’t abandon Megan; this is just a temporary withdrawal.”
“You and your brother, it sounds like you’re playing some kind of miniatures game. Is that what this is to you? Are we just pawns or objectives? Is this just a game to you?”
“That’s how Rexl sees things, the world is his chess board. If I’m going to beat him, I have to think like he does. If I’m going to beat him, I have to play his game.”
“Be careful you don’t become him in the process, doctor; I think you’re walking a tightrope.”
“When you stare into the abyss… that was quite insightful.” Rose, like Megan, appeared to be wise beyond her years, for better or worse. “I have to get you back to your family, that’s the first step. Then, once you’re safe… I’ll come back for Megan.”
“You’re coming back here? What if they catch you?”
“That’s why I have to make sure you and your family are safely hidden. If anything happens to me, I won’t be able to help you.”
Rose paused, hesitating before speaking her final words. “Just make sure you don’t lead them right to us.”
“Misinformation is your friend,” Ollie assured her. “Come on, we have to get out of here, quickly, before anyone comes to stop us. Rexl said he wouldn’t stand in our way, let’s get off this island before he changes his mind.”
Ollie bent down low so Rose could climb up onto his back once more. Blushing, Rose followed his lead, holding onto his shoulders while her legs wrapped around his waist. “Only because no one can see us,” she said into his ear.
Ollie smiled. Rose was just like a teenager ashamed to be seen with her father. It was sweet. “I hope you’re right,” he added.
Then they left.
Ollie made his way through the open field. The shore lay in the distance. He was making good time for someone carrying a teenage girl on his back.
Eventually, they made it to the shore. There was nobody to meet them, for which Ollie was eternally grateful. It seemed that at last, Rexl had run out of surprises.
“Over there,” Ollie pointed out. Hidden under a makeshift tarpaulin made from seaweed, leaves, and branches, lay a small boat. He knelt down and let Rose off his shoulders.
After relieving himself of the minuscule burden, he got to work unveiling the boat and pushed it into the water.
Ollie offered the redhead his hand and gently helped her into the boat. He started up the engine, and soon they were off.
Rose looked out at the ocean, at the sky, staring intently. Ollie had to remind himself that this was all new for the girl; Ollie may have seen it before, but Rose had spent the last ten years in confinement, under a sky of pure white.
“How long until we get there?” Rose asked him.
“It’ll be a few hours.”
I’m afraid so. You may want to get some rest. If nothing else, it’ll pass the time more quickly.”
“And miss this?” Rose asked, gesturing to the view before her. “No, this is fine.”
“You say that now,” Ollie laughed. “I’m not denying the view is spectacular, but stare at it too long and it’s going to get old.”
“Can’t be any worse than the four walls I’m used to,” Rose dismissed.
“Maybe you’re right about that. I’m just worried you’ll get bored.”
“Don’t worry, Doctor. I’m used to long periods of waiting.”
“I’ll bet you are,” Ollie replied, not doubting it for a moment.
Rose turned her attention back to the scenery before them, closing her eyes as a gentle sea breeze washed over them, the early morning sun bathing her in a calm radiance.
“I’ve dreamed of this for so long.” The girl’s voice dropped, barely speaking above a whisper. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Well, I owed it to you,” Ollie replied. The girl didn’t answer him, she had gone back to staring out at the endless sea.
There was an ocean of opportunity out there, the girl’s entire life was ahead of her. It had taken a lot to get here. So much hardship lay behind them, so many sacrifices had been made, so much had been lost; but they’d finally done it. It had taken ten years, but at last, Ollie had set the caged bird free.
The nightmare, for Rose at least, was over.
True to Ollie’s word, it had taken several hours to get to the mainland by boat. After that, they had been cautious. Rexl had given his word that he wouldn’t stop them, but if an agent working for him happened to find them and bring them back; that would be out of his control, he wouldn’t technically be breaking his word.
That was the kind of twisted logic the elder Poer brother utilised. Ollie didn’t trust the man one bit; everything he did was a calculated action. He never made a deal or said anything that didn’t have some loophole he could exploit.
He was shifty like a djinn, anything he said likely had a double meaning. Every offer he made was a double-edged sword. Every wish he granted had a loophole, some measure of fine-print to beware.
That was, of course, assuming that Rexl actually intended to keep his word, but Ollie didn’t suspect him of lying; after all, he seemed quite confident that the girl would end up back in his possession sooner or later, one way or another.
Their organisation had infiltrated governments, media, law enforcement; practically every facet of society. They had agents everywhere, all acting in the organisation’s interest. Even if Rexl didn’t intend to betray them, his superiors weren’t so generous.
Ollie had to hope that the girl wasn’t listed as a missing person; if the police were looking for her, it could cause trouble. If either of their faces had appeared on the news, it could be even worse.
That brought him back. When he’d first found the girl, he’d been worried that her mother would make appeals, go through the motions, make the situation look like an actual kidnapping in order to cover her tracks, to throw off the suspicion that she had wilfully abandoned her daughter.
Now of course, he knew better; the whole situation had been a setup. His ignorance had left him, but his worries remained.
Once they made it to land, they stowed the boat where it wouldn’t be seen and hiked through greenery and rock. They eventually made it to a small harbour town. Ollie still couldn’t be sure whether or not people would recognise them, if people would be after them; they would have to be careful not to draw any unwanted attention.
There was still a long way to go. In the end, Ollie had called for a taxi. The car pulled over on a quiet backstreet to pick them up.
Ollie gave the driver instructions and they were off; It was a long, quiet drive, and the day had taken its toll on them.
It was so much like that first drive they’d taken together, except that this time Ollie and Rose both sat in the back seat. Eventually, Rose found herself drifting off, sleep’s lethargic spell washing over her like a gentle, rolling wave. She gave in and allowed the peaceful slumber to take her, bringing her head to rest once more upon Ollie’s shoulder.
He looked up, catching the driver’s eye in the rear-view mirror.
“So, what’s the deal with you two?” the driver asked.
“Just drive,” Ollie told him.
“Don’t be like that,” the driver defended. “She seems really relaxed around you. You haven’t drugged her or anything, have you?”
“Don’t insult me,” Ollie’s eyes narrowed.
“Woah woah woah, okay, okay? I see a lot of that around here, is all. What are you, the charming teacher or something? Lots of girl’s her age are into older guys.”
What was wrong with this man? “It’s nothing like that. Why don’t you get your mind out of the gutter and keep it on the road?”
“Well, you two seem close is all. Can’t blame a guy for making assumptions. What is she then, your daughter?”
Ollie sighed. He hadn’t expected to have to explain their strange situation, but to brush off idle curiosity might turn it to suspicion. He didn’t want to be caught in a lie either, best to tell the truth; maybe not the whole truth, but close enough to it.
“She’s my niece, if you must know.”
“You must be a tight family.”
“Not really. Dysfunctional is a more apt word, I think.”
“She like it rough, then?”
“You’re sick, you know that?”
“Hey hey, can’t blame a guy for noticing; she’s covered in marks.”
Ollie looked over Rose’s sleeping body as she rested peacefully against him, unaware that they were talking about her. Her legs were still covered in cuts, and her face had some prominent bruising.
“That was her father’s doing.”
“Oh, it’s like that. What are you gonna do with her?”
“I’m taking her home—her home,” he hastily added, lest this letch get the wrong idea. “I’m taking her to live with her mother.”
The rest of the journey was made in silence, the driver’s curiosity sated, or his interest waning; in either case, he let the matter drop, and Ollie relaxed back into the seat. He had to admit, he did get some comfort from the feeling of the girl resting against him.
He missed Megan.
It was a long, quiet drive, and the body beside him was providing a pleasant warmth. It had been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet. Despite his better judgement, although he’d meant to stay alert, Ollie rested his head against the car window and allowed his eyelids to drop, joining Rose in the land of dreams.
Rose gently woke in the same place she’d been when she drifted off. That may not have seemed like much, but considering she was getting used to waking up somewhere entirely different to where she’d fallen asleep, the fact that she didn’t have to relocate her bearings came as a pleasant surprise; it made for a nice change.
As more of her consciousness appeared from behind the veil of sleep, the girl gradually became aware of her position. She was resting against another body, her head resting upon his shoulder, her body nestled against his. It brought her comfort, warmth, but she didn’t want it; she didn’t want to like this, to enjoy it. The warmth from her living pillow was replaced by a new heat, rising in her cheeks; her face was burning up.
She fought against her tired body and forced herself to sit up, to move away from the body she’d been resting against.
“You’re awake,” Ollie noticed.
“How long was I asleep?” the girl asked, rubbing her eyes.
“I can’t say, I did actually fall asleep myself.”
“So, where are we?” Rose looked out the window, they were passing through a city; the sun shone brightly outside. The car pulled off the main road and slowed down a little.
“Driver, you can let us out here,” Ollie called.
“She lives here?” the man asked.
“Of course not, but I think we could both stretch our legs a bit.”
“If you say so. You want I should wait for you?”
“No, we can make our own way from here.”
The car pulled over and Ollie opened the door, climbing out and offering his hand for Rose. He paid the driver and asked him for the time. It had just gone eleven in the morning. No wonder Rose had been so tired; it had been a long night, not that she’d been conscious through all of it.
The girl still felt a little wobbly on her feet. She leaned into the man as a blinding rush came over her.
“I could carry you, if you wanted,” Ollie offered. Was he teasing her? Rose couldn’t tell; she blushed at the thought.
Rose blushed at the thought of all these people watching, and potentially judging her for riding on the man’s shoulders. Even if they assumed her to be his daughter, which she supposed some of them might, she wasn’t some little girl; she’d grown in her captivity. The lean, lanky girl was too old to be getting piggyback rides; that’s what the people would think. Rose didn’t want them all staring at her. Besides, weren’t they supposed to avoid drawing attention to themselves? That’s what Ollie had said, and having the man carry her through the streets hardly seemed inconspicuous.
“Not a chance,” she replied, cheeks still burning.
“Didn’t think you’d bite.” Ollie was grinning. Was he laughing at her? “How about breakfast? You could probably use it, are you hungry?”
Rose hadn’t considered it, but the simple act of hearing Ollie mention it made her stomach rumble.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” the man playfully said.
Rose was used to long periods without eating; at the facility, she’d only eaten once a day. Still, the promise of food had her body craving its fulfilment. The girl leaned on Ollie as he led her down a path; a shortcut, it seemed.
They emerged back on the main road; Rose looked out to see it bustling with cars. This brought back memories.
That day, her mother had brought her out to a street just like this. The older woman had dragged her daughter along behind her, the girl struggling to keep up. Ollie had done the same thing earlier. So much time had passed since then, but it seemed like some things never changed.
That day had been the worst of her life… or so she had said, so she had thought at the time.
That was the day when her freedom had come to an end, the beginning of her imprisonment, the beginning of her nightmare.
Ollie led her into a nearby cafe and they took a table away from the window. A waitress came over to greet them, smiling sweetly. Her smile faltered somewhat when her eyes came to rest on Rose, but she said nothing and handed them each a menu, leaving them alone to decide.
Rose ran a curious eye over the menu, not sure what to make of it. Why couldn’t it have pictures? Ollie leaned in close, his voice barely above a whisper, almost as though he could read her mind, almost as though Megan were still with them. “Can you read it?” he asked.
Rose looked to him, then back to the menu.
“You were still young when I found you, I don’t suppose Kayla taught you much in the way of literacy.” That was true. She was young when her mother abandoned her, but she had started school. She could read a little; sure, Kayla could have taught her more, it would have given her something to do in her isolation at least, but that wasn’t the issue.
Rose knew the alphabet; she knew what letters and words were. She could read the words, but she didn’t have any kind of association with most of them.
“I can read,” she whispered, “but… I don’t understand, I don’t know what these things are,” she gestured to the items on the menu.
Ollie nodded. “That’s understandable.” The man looked through the menu. “You’ve probably never tried this kind of food before. Hard to say what you’d like. How about pancakes?”
“Well, they’re not really cakes. They’re flat and crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and drizzled with syrup. Looks like they serve them with bacon and fried bananas. It might be a little rich.”
“Do you think I’d like it?”
“Only one way to find out. Besides, if you don’t, you’d probably be the first.”
Rose remembered the last time she’d been out. She’d been with her mother and they’d come to a place just like this. She’d eaten a muffin and some kind of cake, and that sweet, pink drink. “Okay, I’ll have that.” She turned to the drinks page. “Do you think they have…” what was it? Her eyes landed on the word her tongue was seeking. “Milkshakes… Strawberry.” Yes, that was it. She remembered it perfectly.
“Looks like you’ve decided,” Ollie said. Just at that moment, the waitress returned to take their order. Ollie told the young, ponytailed woman Rose’s order, then decided for himself. Ollie was having an espresso and Eggs Benedict, whatever those were.
That smell sent Rose right back, it was just like what her Mother had ordered when they were last together, when she’d left Rose alone to deal with her nightmares.
Things would be different this time though, wouldn’t they? Things would be better. Before, Ollie had taken the girl away from her home; this time, he was bringing her back. Before, her mother had abandoned her, left her alone at the train station; this time, she would take her home.
Once the waitress had brought them their food, they ate mostly in silence. Rose was enthralled with her meal, too preoccupied for idle chatter. She had never had anything like it.
“What’s the verdict?” Ollie asked, watching her with an endearing smile on his face. She looked at him blankly, swallowing the mouthful of food. “What do you think? Do you like it?”
“It’s good,” Rose admitted. She looked for a moment to Ollie’s plate. He seemed to be taking his time, eating more slowly than she was. It was difficult to describe what she was seeing. Well, she was unsure what Benedict meant… this must have been it. She recognised the egg, sitting gracefully atop his plate. Two round, white mounds, dressed in a white sauce, and sprinkled with green things, some kind of herb, she supposed. Two mounds, plump and white, spilling their golden, liquid centres upon the toasted throne upon which they regally perched.
“Would you like to try some?” Ollie asked, noticing her gaze. She declined at first, but eventually gave in at his insistence. “Go on,” he said, “just try it. You have a lot to catch up on. There’s so much you haven’t tried, so much you still have to experience.”
Ollie cut a small portion of his food and transferred it to Rose’s plate, giving her a small sample of everything, minus the bacon; she still had some of her own.
It was good, not as good as the pancakes, but, “I like it,” she said, answering the man’s wordless query.
Ollie smiled. “Good.”
They finished eating and sat for a bit. When it was time to leave, Ollie paid for the meal and led Rose out the door.
After the café, Ollie took the girl across town to an unremarkable looking building. Ollie made a phone call and led her around the back. “Where are we going now,” Rose asked.
“I have a friend I want to take a look at you.”
“A friend, look at me?” Rose stared at the man questioningly, “What does that mean?”
“It’s okay, he’s a doctor.”
“Why do I feel like that line should raise some kind of red flag?”
“Look at that,” Ollie joked, “you’ve only been out in the real world for a few hours and you’re already learning the lingo. With that kind of cynicism, you’ll fit right in; you’ll be assimilating in no time.”
“You wanted me to blend in,” the girl replied, noting the way Ollie had deflected her question.
A door suddenly opened and a hand reached out, silently gesturing for them to enter. Ollie stepped through the door and waited for Rose to join him, but she was hesitant to follow.
“Come on,” Ollie said, “you’ll be fine, trust me.”
Rose didn’t know where this was going. She had a bad feeling, but Ollie hadn’t done anything to hurt her so far. He’d come all this way, she doubted he’d betray her now.
Slowly, she stepped into the building. When the door closed behind her, Rose found herself in a small examination room.
“So, this is the one you wanted me to see.” Rose looked to the source of the unfamiliar voice, a tall man around Ollie’s age; glasses framed his face, and his bald head shone beneath the overhead light.
“This is Rose,” Ollie said, introducing her.
“You can call me Doctor Hawke,” the man replied, beaming down at the girl. Rose looked from this new man, to Ollie. “Another doctor?” she asked.
“I’m a different kind of doctor,” Hawke explained. Doctor Poer here is a mind doctor, I’m more of a body doctor.”
“A body doctor?”
“He’s a GP,” Ollie explained.
“When people are sick, they come to me.”
“Am I sick?” Rose asked.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.”
“I feel fine,” Rose dismissed. She wanted to get going, to get out of there.
“That must have been some special breakfast then,” Ollie teased, “Weren’t you complaining of headaches and dizziness before?”
“She’s been fatigued as well,” Ollie told the other doctor. “She fell asleep a couple of times on the way here.”
“I suppose she’s been through a lot,” Hawke reasoned.
“Could you check her blood too? I want to make sure she hasn’t been poisoned.”
“Where did you guys eat?” Hawke joked.
“Before that,” Ollie said.
Rose sent Ollie an anxious look and silently gestured for him to come closer. He loaned her an ear. “Does he know about me?” Rose asked. “Does he know about… you know?”
“Don’t worry,” Ollie told her. “We can trust him.”
That didn’t exactly answer Rose’s question. She hoped Ollie was right.
“So, what did you have for breakfast,” the doctor asked. He had his back to them, preparing for the examination. Rose felt a tinge of panic in the pit of her stomach.
“Pancakes,” the girl answered.
“I see. I can’t say that’s the most nutritious thing to be eating.” He turned to Ollie. “You sure it’s a good idea to be feeding her that kind of food?”
“I figured she deserved a treat.”
“Well, even if it’s junk food, I suppose it’s okay once in a while. I’d have given her something a little less rich, personally. I suppose it went down okay?”
Rose took a seat and watched the two men, eyes darting back and forth from one to the other as they talked about her, perhaps forgetting that she was even there.
“Well, she seemed to like it,” Ollie replied, smiling weakly.
“That’s not what I meant. What’s her diet been like up until now? Has she been eating solids?”
Ollie looked to her. “Well?” he asked, “You’ve been under Kayla’s care, not mine. What has she been feeding you? Was it actual food, just drinks, or did they inject you with nutrients?”
“Kayla used to bring me food. Bread, vegetables, rice… sometimes she gave me fish.”
“Well, that was nice of her.” Rose wondered what Ollie and Megan had eaten. Rose didn’t think Kayla had given her any kind of special treatment, she only had one meal a day, but had that meal been prepared specially for her? Perhaps Kayla had been kinder to her than Rose had thought.
The girl had to remind herself that Kayla had betrayed her.
“I thought she might be malnourished,” Ollie told the doctor, “but you heard her, it seems like she’s been eating okay.”
“She does look thin,” Hawke approached, running a cautious eye over her. “Can you lift up your top?”
Rose looked nervously to Ollie. “It’s okay,” he assured her. Just up to here,” he lifted his own shirt, exposing the skin of his abdomen to show her. She slowly nodded and copied him.
Rose felt a little uncomfortable as Hawke poked and prodded her. He thanked her and asked her to step on a scale in the corner to check her weight.
“Well, she is underweight,” the doctor said, making notes as he went, “but not dangerously so. I’ve seen girls her age that were little more than skeletons; by comparison, Rose seems much healthier. Feed her well, with a little exercise of course, and she’ll be fine. Now, about that blood test,” he turned to Rose, “could you take a seat, please?”
Rose did as she was asked, but felt her body tense when Hawke produced a new syringe from a nearby supply cupboard. Rose held her breath, unable to quell the fear that was consuming her mind. The doctor unwrapped the syringe from its packaging and sat down beside her.
“Can you hold your arm out, like this?” he asked, positioning his own arm out in front of her, “Good. Now, this might hurt a little, but the pain won’t last long.” It never did. Rose knew all about needles and pain. It might not last long, sometimes it was over in an instant, but in the moment, that instant could drag out indefinitely. It wasn’t about the length, it was about the intensity. The pain was always excruciating. Of course, doctors were usually injecting things into her, not drawing them out. She supposed they must have taken her blood for tests too, but by that time she was usually unconscious.
Hawke twisted the cap from the syringe and put the needle to Rose’s skin, pushing the tip into her, invading the vein in her arm on the inside of her elbow.
The needle hurt going in, but that was never the worst part. She braced herself for the intense pain she’d come to expect, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth. She felt the strange sensation of the doctor drawing out her blood. She felt him applying pressure to her arm, squeezing it.
“All done,” he said, to Rose’s surprise. She opened her eyes, he was pressing some kind of small, white ball to the place where the needle had been. “Can you hold this here for me? Keep the pressure up like I am so we can stop the bleeding. That’s it,” he said as Rose did as instructed. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” The man’s voice was soothing to Rose’s ears.
He was right, Rose had barely felt anything; she’d expected it to be much worse than that.
The man ran a few more tests and ushered them out the same door through which they’d entered. “It may take a while for the results, so don’t go too far away,” Hawke explained.
“I’ll be in touch,” Ollie replied.
“I have some ointment for those cuts and bruises, too.” he handed them to Ollie. Here, this should heal them up more quickly. I’ll check her blood for infection and get back to you ASAP.”
“Thanks for that.”
“Don’t mention it. You can owe me later,” Hawke said, flashing a grin. “I don’t suppose you brought me a sample of that plant you were telling me about?”
“No… I didn’t think.”
“That’s too bad, I would have liked to run some tests on it.”
“I was more concerned with killing it and getting it out of Rose, to be honest.”
“Out of her?” The doctor quirked an eyebrow. “What happened, exactly?”
“The plant attached itself to Rose. She was entangled in its vines. One of them went in her mouth, down her throat, it excreted something inside her.”
“You’re worried that it was poisonous.”
“I think it was some kind of drug. It disoriented her, knocked her out. I think the effects have worn off, but I’m still worried about any lasting damage it might have caused.”
“Okay. I’ll check her blood for that too, see if I can find any anomalies. In the meantime, I’d like you to bring me back a couple of samples.” He produced two small plastic containers and handed them to Ollie.
“I see. I guess we can do that.”
“You want to go back there now?” Rose asked, incredulous. The two men exchanged a glance and Rose felt like she was missing something.”
“These samples are from your body,’ Ollie explained to her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want two samples,” Hawke told her. “Not right now; go home, then bring them back to me once you get them. I want a urine sample, and a stool sample.” Rose looked to Ollie.
“When you go to the bathroom…” Ollie began.
“I think I understand,” Rose said, interrupting. It was a little embarrassing. “Do I have to?”
“We want to be sure that the sap isn’t still inside you,” Ollie explained.
“And if it is,” Hawke added, “if there’s any trace of it, I want to run tests.”
“More experiments?” Rose asked.
“Just to make sure it isn’t dangerous.”
Rose looked between the two doctors. They genuinely seemed like they cared for her. “Okay,” she said, “I’ll get the samples.”
Ollie clapped her on the shoulder. “Good for you,” he said. They exited the door and made their way back through the alleyway. “Now we have one more stop to make.
The pair made their way across town once more. Rose followed the man without a word until they came to a car lot, Ollie stepping inside the office to speak to the manager while Rose waited on her own outside.
It was rather dull, Ollie had asked her to wait for him, but there wasn’t much to do. There was nobody around, just her and the cars on display.
Rose looked up at a large sign above her. ‘Low Cost Rentals,’ it said. Rose decided to wander around and look through the rows of cars. They varied in size and colour, but she didn’t know much about them beyond that.
Why were they here, didn’t Ollie have a car? She remembered he’d driven one when he took her away from the city all those years ago. That was pretty far back though, practically a distant memory. Maybe he’d lost that one, maybe it no longer worked, or maybe it had belonged to Rexl or someone else at the facility.
Perhaps Ollie had even gotten that car from this very same place.
The girl waited until eventually, Ollie came back with that other man, the manager. With their business sorted, the manager directed Ollie to a small, white, two-door car.
Ollie motioned for Rose to come over, so she did, approaching cautiously.
“Here it is,” Ollie said, “this car will take us the rest of the way.”
“Is it yours?” Rose asked, looking the vehicle over.
“Just a rental, but it should serve us fine. What do you think?”
“It’s a car.” Rose wasn’t sure what to think.
“Hop in,” Ollie said, opening the passenger side door for her. Rose climbed in and sat down; the interior was a clean grey, warm and soft. It felt nice; it was comfortable, and carried a pleasant, though unfamiliar smell.
“I like it,” she said, looking up at the two men’s expectant faces.”
“Glad it meets your approval,” the manager said, eyes gleaming down at her. He handed Ollie the key and left them to leave at their own convenience.
Ollie got in the driver’s seat and started the engine; it was so quiet that Rose could barely hear it.
Ollie checked the various instruments and helped Rose fasten her seatbelt before pulling out of the lot and onto the road.
They were on their way.
Rose had watched the scenery pass by from her glass box. She was always trapped on the inside, looking out, even now. In time, hopefully that would change.
Rose watched as the cityscape around her moved, she watched as the concrete walls and lampposts fell behind, she watched as the buildings grew further apart. She watched as the scenery changed from grey to green, as they left the city behind them, as the roads became highways. They travelled parallel to the horizon, and Rose looked out to the sea that lay beyond the shoreline.
Ollie had turned on the radio. Not being familiar with any kind of music, Rose had no favourites or preferences, but it did provide the perfect soundtrack. The unfamiliar music made for a good montage as the moments blended together.
Eventually, they pulled into a carpark and Ollie stopped the engine. They had been driving for a long time and the sky around them was beginning to darken.
“Is this it?” Rose asked, looking out the window at their surroundings. They were in a quiet area. The carpark was a large asphalt square, removed from the road by a long gravel driveway and a curtain of trees.
They were parked below a sign.
Was this where they were supposed to meet? Rose gave voice to her uncertainty, posing the question to Ollie.
“Not quite,” he replied, an apologetic glint in his eye. What was going on? “I was thinking we could stop here for now.”
“Why stop now? We’re almost there… aren’t we?” Come to think of it, Rose wasn’t actually sure how true that statement was.
Ollie shook his head. “I haven’t had time to set up a meeting point just yet. I told your mother that I would try to get you out, but I didn’t want to give her a specific time or place until I was sure I could follow through.”
“Oh….” Rose supposed she should have realised. Ollie had been driving all day, he didn’t have time to call ahead. Part of her had assumed he’d be taking her straight home; perhaps there was more to it than that.
“I also thought you might want to clean yourself up first,” Ollie said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you look a little rough. I didn’t expect you to get cut up like that.”
“Oh, right.” Rose still had those cuts and bruises all over her body, not to mention the ones on her face; she couldn’t exactly hide them, it would probably be best to let them heal first.
“I’d rather return you in as good a condition as possible. Though, I suppose it’s your choice if you want to go back earlier. You haven’t seen your family in so long, I’d just rather save your mother the trouble of a traumatic first impression.”
“Yeah, we can’t let her see the results of what she did to me, it might make her feel bad. She might actually regret abandoning me.”
“She does regret it. Are you eager to get back? I could call her now, if you prefer.”
“I’ll trust your advice, doctor. If you think it’s better to wait, I’ll wait.”
The pair made their way into the Motel: a shabby looking building at the back of the carpark.
Just through the entrance was a small reception area. The walls were a drab off-white, sparsely decorated, and broken up by small, rectangular windows, framed by a rich, dark brown.
Ollie stepped up to the counter and rang the bell; the sign next to it read ‘Please ring for service.’
A moment later, a short, plump woman appeared from a doorway behind the counter to greet them, her hair in a bun and her face adorned with thin, wire-framed spectacles.
“Welcome to the Hi-hat Motel, I hope your stay is enjoyable and brief.”
What kind of slogan was that? Rose quirked a brow and sent a sideways glance to the man beside her, who didn’t catch it.
The woman behind the counter looked the pair of them over, but her eyes seemed to linger on Rose in particular. “I don’t suppose you two have a reservation,” she stated in a bored monotone.
“No,” Ollie answered, “Is that a problem? The sign outside said you had rooms available.”
“So, you just want a room for tonight?”
“I’m not sure how long we’ll be staying.”
“Wonderful.” The woman looked them over again, a notable delay before her next impertinent question. “I assume you want a room with two beds?”
Ollie narrowed his eyes, giving the woman a hard stare. “That would be preferable,” he adamantly stated.
“Right, just checking.” The adults seemed to be staring each other down. It was as though they were having a secret conversation or argument, one that was hidden beneath the surface of their words, made up of implications and stares. Once again, Rose caught the woman’s eyes lingering on her.
“Courtesy of her father,” Ollie said.
“The bruises,” Ollie explained. “I see they’ve caught your attention; you were staring.”
Rose found herself looking between the two adults, not wanting to miss their exchange as they talked about her.
“I take it she’s not your daughter then? Not your biological one, anyway.”
“It’s nothing like that. She’s my niece, if you must know. I’m taking her to live with her mother.”
Rose found herself captivated with Ollie’s concoction. He spun his web so effortlessly, as though the lie were second nature. She wondered if he had prepared it beforehand.
Thinking on it for a moment, she realised that Ollie’s story wasn’t really that far removed from the truth, aside from the implication about her father.
“So,” the woman behind the counter said, “the mother left her alone with a monster that would do this to his own daughter?”
“She didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“I’m glad she was able to get out, don’t get me wrong, but it sounds to me like she threw her daughter to the wolves so she could save herself.”
Rose had to admit, the woman made a good point.
“With all due respect,” Ollie countered, “It’s not your place to judge. I would prefer that you stay out of matters that don’t concern you, and that you know nothing about.”
“I was just giving my two cents.”
“I appreciate your concern, but again, it’s our business; we’ll deal with it ourselves, as a family.”
Rose thought she’d heard a slight pause before Ollie said that all-important f-word. Had he hesitated? Perhaps this unwarranted conversation was making him realise what he’d given up, what he’d lost.
“As you wish,” the woman said as she reached under the counter and handed Ollie a key. “You’re on the ground floor, room two. I need a name for the room.”
“Oliver Sykes,” Ollie stated, not noticing Rose’s questioning glance. The woman wrote the name down in her ledger and handed it to Ollie to sign, who did so and thanked her before handing it back. “I’m sure you can imagine, given our sensitive situation, but we would appreciate our privacy.”
“Naturally, but bringing it up like that does make it seem as though you have something to hide.”
“We all have things to hide; you’re fooling yourself if you disagree. We all take things for granted, not knowing what we have until it’s taken from us. Don’t interfere, and we won’t cause you any problems.”
“Well, when you put it like that… don’t worry, I won’t pry. Of course, I may have to charge extra for the bother—for the service.” The woman’s lips turned up in an uncomfortable looking smile that didn’t reach her eyes, likely to cover her verbal slip.
“To charge a premium for privacy…” Ollie shook his head, adjusting his glasses. “Fine, whatever.” He put an arm around Rose’s shoulder and steered her toward the back of the lobby, out the door, and toward their room.
“You appear to be travelling light,” the woman called out after them, noting their apparent lack of luggage.
“So much for not prying,” Rose Commented.
“Let’s hope that’s the limit of her interference,” Ollie said.
The door led them outside, the building ahead stretching out to either side of them. Each room seemed to be connected. The complex was a single building, but each room had its own separate entrance, like a line of cubicles; there was no internal hallway connecting them. That didn’t seem so bad, Rose had had her fair share of hallways, after all. The freedom of this open plan was actually somewhat liberating; It would make for a quick getaway, should the need arise.
Ollie led her to the left, almost on the far side, second from the end; they approached the entrance and walked up the set of six stone steps leading to the room, the door was adorned with a silver ‘2.’
“Room two,” Ollie announced, inserting his key into the lock and opening the door. “This is us,” he said, motioning for Rose to go ahead of him.
The girl stepped over the threshold and looked around.
Room was a good description, it spread out around her; not too small, but not huge either. The carpet was a clean grey, the walls were an off-white, and the windowsills matched the ceiling in their white purity. Against the far wall were two beds, lined up neatly next to each other, but not too close together. A small table was situated between them, a small lamp sitting on top. On the opposite wall was a black panel, like a window, but Rose couldn’t see through it. Ollie told her it was a television.
Rose had a vague recollection of television; they’d had one at home. Daddy used to watch it at night, then he’d start drinking and yell at the men running around on the screen, but that television had looked completely different from this one; their television had been a large, square box; not a panel, not a window.
Ollie turned the thing on and handed Rose the remote, showing her how to use it. “You should find it more interesting than your window back at the facility,” he said.
Off to the side was a kitchen area with chequered floor tiles, and there was a private bathroom with a door.
All in all, it wasn’t bad; of course, Rose wasn’t exactly accustomed to luxury. She lay down on one of the beds, relishing the soft comfort the second her head touched the pillow. Rose was used to sleeping on the floor, naked, without so much as a blanket to lay on or cover herself with. She hadn’t slept in a bed in so long, she’d almost forgotten how soft and warm they could be.
A smile gently graced her lips as her eyelids slowly closed, and she allowed the peaceful slumber to wash over her like the waves she’d seen lapping at the shore of that island.
Ollie must have turned off the television, because Rose couldn’t hear anything, and before she knew it, she was asleep.
The next thing Rose knew, she was alone in the quiet room.
She opened her eyes and looked about her, taking in her surroundings; she was laying on top of the bed in the motel room. Considering the past day, it was almost a rare commodity to wake up in the same place she’d fallen asleep.
“Doctor?” she called out, but there was no answer. Had he left her?
Rose stretched and sat up, swinging her legs around to the side of the bed. Her eyes were instantly drawn to a small notepad sitting on the table between the two beds. There was writing on the paper, perhaps a note? It was a good thing she could read. It was also good that the doctor had limited himself to small words.
‘Gone out for supplies, wait for me.’
He hadn’t signed his name, but the note had to be from Poer.
A yawn escaped the girl; her mouth was dry. After stretching once more, Rose stood and headed into the kitchen. Normally, she would have to wait for Kayla to provide her with food and water, but this motel room wasn’t her usual prison.
Rose found a cupboard lined with glasses. Taking one in hand, she filled it with water from the tap, raised it to her lips, and drank. Rose downed it in one go, shuddering at the bitter aftertaste; it was different to the water she was used to, but she’d been thirsty.
Placing the glass in the sink, she headed back to the main section of the room and lay back down on the bed.
It was then that she noticed she was missing her shoes and jacket; Ollie must have removed them after she’d drifted off. That was strange, she didn’t think she was that deep of a sleeper, her experience in the forest aside.
Rose supposed it was a good thing that he’d done so. She hadn’t considered it, but laying on a bed in her shoes wasn’t exactly the best behaviour. In her defence, Rose had been living like a caged animal for so long that the rules that came with luxury had long-since slipped her mind.
Rose reached for the remote and turned on the television. Ollie had said she would find it more interesting than her window back at the facility, and it would certainly be better than staring out the window here at the empty, grey parking lot.
The screen flashed to life and Rose began switching through the various channels, eventually coming to rest on a nature show about wildlife.
Rose watched the show and listened to the narrator as he talked about Cheetahs, so engrossed that she didn’t notice the gradual movements of the clock.
Rose didn’t know how long she’d been watching the television, or how much time had passed. She’d been lost, transfixed by the wonders of the magic window, breaking out of the trance only by the sound of a sharp knocking at the door. She got up to answer it, stretching her legs as she stood.
Ollie’s note had said he’d gone out for supplies, perhaps his hands were full. It didn’t occur to her that the knock could have come from anyone other than the Psychiatrist.
Rose opened the door and froze for a second, mind and body locked up by the shock, by the surprise of the unexpected visitor.
It wasn’t Ollie on the other side of the door, it was someone else. Someone unexpected, someone unwanted, someone Rose didn’t care to see.
It was that woman, the one from the front desk, the one who had promised not to pry and meddle in their affairs. She had promised Ollie that she wouldn’t interfere, yet here she was.
“He’s not here,” Rose said to the woman, cutting of whatever she was about to say before she had a chance to say it. Rose felt sure that it was best to let the doctor deal with her. She’d come back later, Rose was sure of it, but it would be better that she come back when Ollie was here.
“I know,” the woman said, to Rose’s surprise. “I saw him leave, that’s why I’m here.” Rose’s eyes narrowed, her brows knitting together. This did not bode well. “I thought I’d take this chance to talk to you while your uncle… while this Mister Sykes is gone, if that is his name.” The way she’d said that, Rose was certain this meddlesome woman knew that it wasn’t. “May I come in?”
“I don’t think you should,” Rose answered curtly, feeling sure that it was a general rule that a child wasn’t supposed to let strangers into their home while their parents were away. Their current situation may not have matched that scenario exactly, but it was close enough that Rose felt the rule should still apply.
“I just want to talk to you; this may be our only chance.”
By that, the woman of course meant that this may be her only chance to get the girl alone, without Ollie’s supervision or intervention.
Was this the woman’s idea of not meddling in their affairs? Was this the woman’s idea of respecting their privacy? Oh no, this did not bode well at all.
“Look,” the woman began, “I know something’s up; I can tell. Something about that story, about how that man’s your uncle and he’s taking you back to your mother; it doesn’t feel right. I think he was lying.”
Incredulously, that was the part of the story that actually was true.
“Is there anything you want to tell me? It’s okay, he won’t find out.”
This woman reminded Rose of Kayla. She had that same motherly tone, the same fake, soft, high-pitch, showing the same false concern. Her eyes implored the girl to talk, to spill her secrets.
“I just want to help,” the woman continued, “I’m concerned about you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“All the same, I don’t think it’s right for any girl your age to have to suffer.” The woman dropped her voice despite the lack of apparent eavesdroppers, leaning closer. “He hasn’t tried to touch you… has he?”
“He hasn’t,” Rose replied, catching the woman’s meaning and emphasising her words to stress that Ollie had never hurt her.
“If there’s anything I can do, just ask.” It seemed as though the woman genuinely wanted to help, but her meddling might have been more trouble than it was worth. What if she alerted the authorities? The director might trace that to their location and set a trap. Would Poer’s brother ever really let her be free?
“Thank you, but there’s nothing you can do.”
The woman looked her over, perhaps choosing her words carefully. “you’re not afraid of him, right? That man?”
The woman was suspicious. Rose supposed she had every right to be, but that wouldn’t help her. “He’s done a lot for me, he saved me, he got me out of there…” Rose had to be careful not to give away too much information. She’d have to be like Poer, offer just enough of the truth to be believable and sate the woman’s curiosity without giving away the whole story. “I trust him.”
The woman eyed her for a long time, but finally nodded her head. “If you’re sure.”
“I am,” Rose replied. The woman said her goodbyes and backed away from the door.
With her unexpected guest gone, Rose was alone once again.
Ollie returned later in the day, bringing supplies, carrying them in a big box which he brought in and set down on the table.
“What is all this?” Rose asked, looking through the box. The thing was massive.
“I wasn’t sure how long we’d be here, so I thought we’d better stock up.”
“You’re making this sound like some holiday.”
“If you really think about it, this is a kind of holiday, isn’t it? Maybe not the one you deserve, but… you’ve been through a lot. You just escaped from the closest thing there is to a Hell on Earth, something to which no kid should ever have been subjected. It’s like you’ve broken out of prison, you deserve to rest a bit, take some time to relax before you head home.”
Rose supposed the man had a point. Part of her was eager to go home, but she was nervous at the same time. What would she say to her mother? How would she react to the woman who gave her away, who abandoned her, who left her vulnerable to the demons that wanted her, that craved her, that longed to claim her?
Poer called that place Hell; if that were true, then the Director must have been the Devil.
Rose was anxious. She wanted to go home, wanted to see her mother, wanted to be normal, be human again; she wanted her life back, but at the same time, she didn’t. She was afraid. If Poer wanted to stay here with her for a while, that was fine; Rose was happy to oblige him, it was a welcome reprieve for them both.
Poer may have gotten Rose out, but he wasn’t finished, was he? They’d left Megan behind. She was still trapped in hell, all alone.
Poer had done the one thing he’d been determined not to do: sacrifice one girl for the other. It must have been a difficult decision for him, but Rose knew he wouldn’t leave Megan there; he couldn’t, they needed each other.
Poer had dug his way out of Hell to pave the way, then gone back for Rose; he’d do the same for Megan, he’d never give up on her. There was something admirable about that; Rose didn’t know whether she’d be able to do the same.
Poer pulled more items out of the box. “Medical supplies,” he explained. Ointments and bandages. “These should help your body heal faster. The sooner those bruises and scars heal up, the sooner you’ll stop drawing attention.”
Rose remembered that woman from before, the way she’d looked at her. “I think she was worried about me,” Rose said, giving voice to her thoughts, “I don’t know why, but….”
“Who?” Ollie asked. Rose realised that unlike Megan, the Psychiatrist couldn’t read her mind.
“Oh, that woman from the front desk.”
Ollie looked at her for a moment. Rose expected him to question her further. She was about to explain, but then Ollie spoke. “She’s not the only one. That driver this morning, he brought it up as well, while you were sleeping.”
“He was concerned?”
“Well… I don’t know what his reasoning was. He was a little crude, but he’d clearly noticed, and made a point to let me know.”
“Did you tell him what you told the woman at the desk?”
“More or less.”
“When did you come up with that story?”
“I wouldn’t call it a story, exactly. I told them that I’m your uncle, and that I’m taking you to live with your mother. That’s all true.”
“But you implied that my Father is responsible for this,” Rose gestured to the cuts adorning her skin, “you made it seem like he hit me.”
“As far as we know, everything that’s happened was by his design; if not, then he was at least complicit. You heard what he said, he wasn’t overly concerned with your condition, so long as you were still alive; it was as though he’d expected it, he’d accepted it.”
“Why mention him at all? If you’re going to lie, why not make up something completely different?”
“Are you afraid word will get back to your father?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you ever heard that honesty is the best policy?” Rose shook her head. “That’s something that I happen to believe in, up to a point. It’s best to be honest if you can; living a lie isn’t really living. Constantly being on edge, looking over your shoulder, unable to trust those around you,” he shook his head, “that’s no way to live.
“Honesty is the best policy,” he continued, “I think that’s a nice code to live by. Unfortunately, like most ideals, it’s not always possible. Sometimes you have to lie, but you should only do it when it’s absolutely necessary, and never for petty personal gain; and when you do lie, make sure it’s contained, you want to stay as close to the truth as possible. Everybody has tells when they lie, and it’s easy to be discovered. If you have to make up new lies to cover the old ones, then you’ll quickly be overwhelmed. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before they catch up with you; you’ll be trapped, entangled within your own web of lies. It’s inevitable.”
“But you lied.”
“Like I said, do it sparingly. Only lie when you have to, and stay as close to the truth as possible. If you’re careful, and lucky, you’ll be gone before the truth is uncovered, but be careful; burn too many bridges, and you’ll find yourself marooned, with nowhere to go. One more thing, don’t lie to or manipulate the people close to you, or those that you really care about. The pain of being betrayed by the ones you love, the ones you thought you could depend on; that is one of the worst feelings most people will ever experience, and not easily forgiven.”
“Like Kayla.” Rose had trusted her, but that woman hadn’t cared about Rose at all. Rose would never forgive her, she hated her. She wasn’t sorry that Kayla had to die, she got what she deserved. Everybody gets what they deserve.
“Once you’ve lost the trust of the people close to you, it can be impossible to get it back.”
Rose nodded. “I understand.” She turned from the man and looked inside the box. Various packages were contained within: Boxes, cans, a teddy bear… curiosity getting the best of her, she reached in and picked it up.
It wasn’t really a bear at all, more of a mouse. It was covered in a soft fur, pure white, like snow. The inside of its ears were pink felt, and it’s shiny, cold black eyes and nose seemed to glisten.
The thing wasn’t particularly big, but it wasn’t too small either, and it was soft and warm to the touch. Just the right size for a child.
“What… what is this?” she asked.
“Oh, that…” Poer looked away, somewhat awkwardly. “Well, I saw it and….”
“You got this for me?”
“It’s not much.”
“I suppose Megan would have liked something like this.”
“She probably would. You were so young when I found you, you’ve been robbed of your entire childhood; I’m sorry I played a part in that.”
“So, this is your way of making up for it? I thought that was why you broke me out.”
“Nothing I can do will make up for the past. I can’t give you your childhood back, but I thought that maybe this could serve as a kind of surrogate.”
“Doctor?” Ollie looked down at her, meeting her eye. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“No… I don’t suppose it does, does it? I just thought…” he sighed. Had Rose hurt his feelings? She hadn’t meant to seem ungrateful. “I don’t know, I saw it and thought of you. It’s okay if you don’t like it.”
Rose looked to the stuffed animal; the plush, rat-faced children’s toy. “I appreciate the thought, but I just don’t think I’d have any use for something like this.”
“If you don’t want it, then give it back,” Ollie stated. “Maybe you’re right, maybe Megan will be able to appreciate it better.”
Rose looked the thing over again. It was cute, she had to admit, and it did feel nice against her skin. Soft, warm, fluffy… if someone had offered her this gift when she’d first arrived at the facility, she’d probably have hugged it tightly and never let it go.
She looked into the rat-faced animal’s eyes; it’s small, gleaming black eyes and smiling face. It was like the thing was imploring her, begging for acceptance. Rose felt herself soften a little. It had been a gift, after all.
“I suppose it’s the thought that counts,” she said, pressing the toy to her face, feeling the soft warmth of its fur against her cheek. Her eyes gently closed, and she couldn’t contain the soft smile that warmed her features.
Of course, Rose didn’t need the plush mouse to warm her cheek for long; once she caught sight of Poer’s endearing smile as he watched her, her face began to blaze of its own accord.
“Um… thank you,” she managed to spit out.
Poer’s fingers touched her forehead, brushing a loose lock behind her ear. Rose’s face was burning, it must have been the same colour as that strand of scarlet.
“You’re welcome, I’m glad you like it.”
Rose was lost, somewhere between the plains of bliss and humiliation; she was blissfully embarrassed. She could only hope that Poer would keep this moment between them. What happened in the room stayed it the room, right? That’s how it was at the facility, it would be the same here, she supposed.
Rose’s smile faltered somewhat as she felt the draught of her old, chilly memories invading her warm, fuzzy, new ones. That part of her life was over, it should stay in the past, where it belonged.
Poer reached into the box with both hands and pulled out a paper bag in each.
“Are you hungry yet, he asked, “do you like chicken?”
“I’m not sure, Rose said, reaching for one of the bags and opening it, placing the mouse down on the table and taking a seat. An aroma wafted out from the bag and washed over her.
This smell, she couldn’t get enough of it. “I think I do,” she said.
She was going to enjoy this.
Ollie sat quietly in the car, looking ahead, Rose in the passenger seat beside him. It was late, and the night sky had engulfed them. It had been three weeks since they’d escaped the facility, and it was finally time for Rose to go home.
The car sat alone in the dark, desolate silence of an empty, unused parking lot. They sat in the shadow of a tall building, rectangular, lined with simple, square windows. No lights shone from within, giving it a dead, graveyard-like appearance. There was nobody inside, a theme which was matched by their surroundings. There was nobody around; no lights, no cameras, no witnesses. The only light source came from the street lights lining the road up in the distance. From a quick glance at the building before them, it looked to be about ten stories high.
“Do you think she’s actually coming?” Rose asked, breaking the long silence. Was she feeling anxious? The girl’s voice was flat and emotionless, controlled, but the answer was in the question.
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon. Why, are you getting sick of me?”
Ollie had meant it as a joke. He wanted to lighten the mood, but it didn’t seem like Rose had caught on to that fact. She didn’t laugh, didn’t smile; her face was every bit as expressionless as her voice.
She was probably nervous. After all, this would be the first time Rose would have seen her mother in ten years; the first time she’d be reunited with the woman who abandoned her, their first time meeting since her mother left her alone at that train station, since Ollie took her away, since he dragged her down to hell with him.
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” Ollie assured the girl. He looked at the dashboard clock. The woman was running late; she was coming, wasn’t she? She wasn’t having second thoughts, surely not. It was too late to reconsider, they’d come too far; she couldn’t back out now, no matter how cold her feet might have been. There was no way the woman could let her daughter down a second time.
Ollie’s muscles suddenly tensed as a pair of headlights approached from behind them. The unknown car entered the parking lot, driving straight past them and coming to a halt a short way away.
The car sat still for a moment, then the lights went out and the darkness returned to engulf their surroundings. Without a word, Ollie’s eyes joined those of the girl beside him.
“You think that’s her?” she asked. That was a good question. Who else would come here at this time, did anyone else know they would be here? Had they been followed, were they being watched? They couldn’t underestimate Rexl’s reach. The question was: would he act against them? Rexl had stood by and allowed Ollie to take Rose away, but how long a leash did he really intend to give her?
Ollie looked into the girl’s eyes. There wasn’t much they could find out by sitting here. The other car remained still; its occupants hadn’t made a move. They must have been waiting for Rose to show herself. Either this was some attempt by Rexl to take back what he considered his, or it was Rose’s mother, perhaps just as anxious as the girl in question.
Was this a trap? Ollie was thinking along those lines, perhaps Rose’s mother was doing the same. Perhaps the woman suspected them of something.
Ollie looked back to Rose. She looked into his eyes, imploring him. What should they do, who was in the other car?
“There’s only one way to find out,” Ollie finally said, unfastening his seatbelt. “Let’s go.” He opened the door and stepped out into the still air of the night.
Rose followed his lead, stepping out of her car and slinging the bag containing her few possessions over her shoulder. The car doors both closed in unison, creating an echo. “Stay close,” Ollie instructed, slowly making his way toward the other car.
When they’d covered half the distance toward the car, the driver’s door opened and out stepped a lone figure. Ollie managed to make out her form in the darkness of the car park. Tall, slim figure; distinctive red hair, the same as her daughter’s, not quite reaching her shoulders; a long dress, flowing down past her knees, and high-heeled shoes that clacked noisily against the hard concrete of the parking lot.
They came to meet in the middle of the car park, each looking the other party over, silently staring, neither saying a word.
Mother and daughter looked at each other, both unsure of what to do, what to say; neither able to make the first move.
Ollie placed a hand upon Rose’s shoulder. “Well, here she is,” he said in an awkward attempt at kicking off the conversation.
He looked to Rose, expecting her to bite back with another sarcastic remark like she had in the forest, but the girl said nothing. She seemed to have left her snark behind, or perhaps she was trying to be respectful, on her best behaviour.
Was she afraid that her mother might not want her, that she might reject her if she didn’t behave herself? Was Rose purposely trying to project the image of the perfect daughter, or was she just nervous?
Ollie spoke again, his second attempt at getting things moving. “Your daughter has been through a lot.” The woman looked to him; as their eyes met, Ollie was struck once more by the magnitude of which she resembled her daughter. “I think she’ll be okay, but I need you to help her adjust. Can you imagine what it would be like for a family member coming home from prison after a long sentence?”
“No,” the woman finally spoke, her tone sounding quite reserved and indignant, “I can’t.” Ollie wasn’t sure he liked the way she’d said that, or the possible implication of her words.
“Well, your daughter’s condition is something similar to that. She’s going to need your help to fit in and find her place. Rexl’s people had her locked up like a caged animal, like a prisoner.”
“Aren’t you one of Rexl’s people,” the woman accused.
“I was,” Ollie admitted, stressing the past tense. “I apologise for my role in all this, but no one here is innocent, save for the girl herself. Your daughter was the victim in all this, I’m just trying to do what’s right, to atone for the part I played in my brother’s devilish game, as, I assume, are you. Rexl played all of us, but it’s our children who were made to suffer.”
Ollie and Rose shared a glance before looking back to her mother. “She’s going to need patience and understanding,” he explained to the woman. “You’ll need to integrate her into society, slowly and carefully. We don’t want her to be overwhelmed. She’s missed out on a lot, and there is so much she has yet to learn.”
Ollie felt Rose’s eyes on him as he said that. Perhaps she’d taken it the wrong way.
“She’s lost not only her childhood, but also a big part of her teen years. In some ways, she’s been forced to grow up too fast; but in others, it’s like she hasn’t had room to grow at all. We’ve taken a lot from her, perhaps the most important years of her life. It may seem cruel to consider taking more, but it’s for the best. She’s not ready to be let loose into the free world, you’ll need to prepare her, teach her so she can live a normal life, a happy life. It may take a long time, but I hope you agree the investment will be worth it. You may also want to think about hiring a private tutor or home-schooling her for a while.”
“We have considered home-schooling her,” the woman said.
“Good, though I think she should enter into public school eventually, maybe in a year or so. She hasn’t been around many kids her own age, that would be a good experience for her.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” the woman replied.
“Oh, and one more thing, before I forget.” Ollie turned to Rose, “I already explained to you, about your contact lenses.”
“Will she need glasses?” the woman asked, “Does she have a prescription?”
“They’re purely cosmetic,” Ollie explained. “I’m afraid that as a side effect of Rexl’s experimentation, her eyes have changed colour. I’ve given her some contact lenses to disguise it.”
“Does that matter? Nobody knows her, the neighbours aren’t even aware I have a daughter.”
“Won’t that present a problem?”
“If worse comes to worst, I can just tell people she’s adopted,” the mother reasoned.”
“That’s less than ideal.”
“The point is, they don’t know her, so they wouldn’t realise if her eyes were a different colour.”
“If they were blue or brown, I’d agree, but I’m afraid they look a little unnatural, in a way that would likely draw unwanted attention.”
“Well, what colour are they?”
“Let’s just say they go with her hair.”
“But her hair is red.”
“I told you they’d stand out. It’s okay, although her eyes are somewhat conspicuous, the contacts should hide them. I advise taking them out at night, just make sure she wears them whenever anyone could see her, say, if you go out or have company over.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Ollie nodded, “Well, If that’s everything,” he said, mentally checking an imaginary list, trying to see if there was anything he’d forgotten, “I suppose I’ll leave the rest to you.” He made eye contact with Rose, before looking to her mother.
The woman hesitated for a moment. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she nodded and turned to face her daughter. “Very well,” she said solemnly, “are you ready?” The two stood still, each staring at the other, awkward, stiff. “Let’s go home.”
Rose just stood there, rooted to the spot, as though unsure of what to do. Ollie looked into her eyes and saw the emotions swirling within. Fear, anxiety, hope, wonderment. It was like a dream, perhaps something she’d always wanted, but never expected to happen. She was finally here; it was really about to happen. She was going home.
Rose shook the swirling whirlwind clouding her vision, shaking the burden from her shoulders as she ran to embrace the older woman, her family, her mother.
Ollie could only stare, aghast, in surprise at the unexpected display of emotion, unable to shake the feeling that it looked odd on her; like it didn’t suit, like she was wearing a jacket that was two sizes too large; it didn’t fit.
Something else didn’t fit; Rose stood embracing her mother, arms wrapped tightly around the woman’s body as she simply stood there, stiff, still, wooden, awkward. Ollie would have expected the woman to be more emotional about the reunion, more receptive of her daughter. Rose’s mother was regarding her daughter’s hug the way Rose had regarded Megan’s, back at the facility, before their botched escape attempt, before everything fell apart. That felt like a simpler time, though it hadn’t been more than a few days ago.
Rose’s mother seemed cold, stoic; perhaps that’s where the girl got it from, though Ollie felt sure she’d been shaped by her time at the facility. He recalled what the girl had told him all those years ago. Her mother had been kind to her, listened to her, talked to her. The girl had made it seem like a grand gesture. Perhaps that’s the way her mother was: naturally cold and distant.
Perhaps there was nothing out of the ordinary here.
The woman met Ollie’s eye, her steady gaze piercing him like a sharp blade. “Is that all?” she asked.
“I believe so. Looks like this is goodbye.” The girl turned and looked to him through wide, innocent eyes that would have looked better on Megan. He never thought Rose could look so pure, so vulnerable, so human. Ollie was thankful that Rexl and Kayla hadn’t been able to squeeze it out of her completely. Perhaps she’d be ready to fit back into a normal, happy life earlier than he’d thought.
Ollie approached the girl, reaching for her head, ruffling her hair with his hand the same way he’d done with Megan countless times, noticing the different feel of her long hair: soft and smooth, compared to Megan’s short, scruffy mess. Ollie ignored the look he thought he’d seen flash in her mother’s eyes, the look he thought he’d seen in his peripheral vision. He must have imagined it. Rose was going to be fine. He placed an arm around her, pulling her close.
“Looks like this is it,” he said, offering a sad smile. “Have a good life.”
“Thank you, Doctor. For everything.”
“Don’t mention it,” Ollie smiled warmly, letting her go and taking a step back. “And… you can call me Ollie.”
“Do you want something in return?” the mother asked, her tone sounding reserved.”
“I’m just trying to make amends, though… maybe there is one thing.”
“I thought so… what is it?”
“I am worried about Rexl. I get the impression that he won’t give up on claiming your daughter, he might have your family watched, maybe even attacked, like… like mine was.”
“Are you suggesting we hide? Move around?”
“I hope that won’t be necessary,” Ollie said, glancing once more to Rose, “I’d prefer it if her new life had as much stability as possible. “Perhaps if we stay in touch? If I get word of anything, I could warn you, give you the chance that my wife never had.”
The woman considered Ollie’s words for a moment before finally agreeing. “We’ll try it your way, for now. You have my number.” Ollie nodded and the woman led her daughter over to the car. As Rose was slowly ushered away, she sent Ollie one final, fleeting glance.
“Goodbye, doc—Ollie.” She raised her arm in an awkward, haphazard wave.
“Goodbye, Rose,” Ollie said, voice soft, returning the wave with a sad smile. He was glad Rose was back with her mother, back where she belonged, but still; he couldn’t help the feeling that he was going to miss her.
The woman opened the back door to the car and gestured for the girl to get in. Rose took one look inside and hesitated, looking between her mother and the car’s interior.
What was wrong, was Rose suddenly feeling nervous, was she having second thoughts? Had she wanted to sit in the front, or was there something in the back making her nervous, making her unsure? Was there a dog? A person?
Ollie stepped to the side, shifting his angle for a better view, trying to sneak a glance inside the vehicle. He could just make out a shape; there appeared to be somebody inside, the mother’s husband, perhaps.
Ollie didn’t know much about the man, he’d only met him the once, when he visited the house. He’d seemed rather aloof, distant, but then again, so did the mother, and so did their daughter. It was a family trait, or so it seemed.
Ollie hadn’t known the man was coming. Why didn’t he come out to meet them? For that matter, why was he sitting in the back? Why wasn’t he in the front, or even driving?
Rose turned back to look at Ollie, as if wondering whether it was too late to go back, to call the whole thing off, to abort. Ollie flashed the girl an encouraging smile and nodded her on.
Rose said something to the mysterious figure in the back, then climbed in beside him; her mother closing the door behind her, offering Ollie one final glance before walking around to the driver’s seat and starting the car.
As the car pulled away, Ollie caught Rose’s forlorn stare as she gazed out the window. Their eyes met, and she held his gaze until he could no longer make her out, their last point of contact broken only by the distance between them.
As the car sped off, out of sight, Ollie released a sigh. He’d done it. Rose was going home, she was safe, with her family; he’d done what he’d set out to do. He was going to miss her.
Rose may not have been the most talkative sort, clearly not the gentle optimist that Megan was; her deadpan, sarcastic snark may not have made for the best company, but he’d enjoyed it all the same. She’d even begun to open up and come out of her shell, expressing emotions that she’d been forced all this time to repress, emotions that she may have forgotten she’d even possessed.
The thought filled Ollie with warmth. Rose had truly blossomed since leaving the facility; he’d taken her out of that cold, dark, concrete prison and introduced her once again to the sun’s warm rays, and she’d bloomed. Things could only get better from here; she was going to be fine.
Now that she was gone, Ollie couldn’t help the cold chill that ran down his spine, freezing him from within, the chill of emptiness left in her wake.
He had to console himself with the knowledge that Rose wasn’t his to keep. He had always meant to return her; that was the entire point. He’d given her the choice, and she’d taken it, grasped it with both hands. Rose had chosen her mother; she’d chosen to go home. Ollie was happy for her.
The Psychiatrist turned back to his rental car; he wasn’t done yet. One girl was safe, but the other was still lost, back in the darkness of the facility; alone, miserable, suffering.
He had to go back for her, there was no other way, there was no alternative. Rose was out of his hands; Megan was back there in the darkness, back in that prison, that forsaken facility. There was one more trip to be made, one more trip down into the cavern of hell.
Megan was waiting for him. He would save her, or die trying.