Book III: Imaginary Fiend: Blood Rose
M J Robertson
Chapter IX: The Return
This was it; it was finally happening… wasn’t it? Rose and Ollie stood in the centre of the parking lot, the girl feeling a chill come over her. The car was up ahead; they were inside, the person that wanted to take Rose away; her mother, she hoped.
It was her, wasn’t it? They had been waiting for some time. Had something happened to her, what if the director’s people had intercepted her? This could be a trap! Rose looked to the man beside her. Ollie stared straight ahead, focusing intently on that car.
It was fine, wasn’t it? It would be alright. Rose didn’t know whether Poer had prepared countermeasures for any kind of trick his brother might try to pull, but she had faith in him; Poer should able to put something together, should an imposter emerge from that other car.
Eventually, the door opened, and out came a lone figure, one that Rose instantly recognized; she had to stop herself from running toward it. It was her. It was Mother.
Rose hadn’t seen her in such a long time, but she knew it was her; that woman was ingrained in her memory. Ollie had said the resemblance between them was uncanny, so Rose looked just like a younger version of this woman? Her mother’s hair was obviously much shorter, only reaching her shoulder, and she wore a long skirt; whereas Rose was dressed in shorts. Her eyes were a magnificent green, but Rose’s had changed; she had her mother’s face, but she no longer had her eyes.
As the woman came closer, Rose examined her; she looked just the way Rose remembered her. It was as though she hadn’t changed at all; Rose wondered if her mother thought the same. After all she’d been through, had she changed much? She’d grown up, and her hair had grown much longer; but beyond that, did her mother recognize her? Did she look that different?
“Well, here we are,” Ollie said, sounding somewhat awkward. Rose ignored him, transfixed with the sight of her mother. “Your daughter has been through a lot. 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, I can’t.” Rose was somewhat taken aback by the harshness of her mother’s words. Did this mean she didn’t believe in second chances? What were they doing here, then? What was this, if not a second chance? It was a new start, for the both of them, wasn’t it?
Ollie continued, the two adults going back and forth; they were talking about her, not to her. Rose felt like a third wheel; she was only partially listening. Her eyes drifted over to the car her mother had arrived in. She didn’t recognise it; it must have been new. Had her mother been living it up without her, without the burden of raising a child? She must’ve been having the time of her life while Rose was stuck suffering in the hell her mother had left her to rot in.
Suddenly, the woman caught her eye. The heated glare, the accusatory stare. Was it meant for her? No, it was aimed in Poer’s direction.
Rose’s mind had drifted away from the conversation. What had the woman said, what was going on?”
“I was,” Poer spoke, giving Rose a chance to catch up. “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.”
Rose looked to Poer as he said that. He turned to face her as well, catching her gaze instinctively, as though sensing it. They both looked away in unison, turning to face her mother. Had she seriously tried to play the blame game? Rose had forgiven Poer, but she might never forgive her mother. They were both at fault, but Poer had apologised, he’d gotten her out; wasn’t her mother trying to do the same? Wasn’t taking Rose back her mother’s way of making amends? How could she stand there and put all of the blame on Poer? If it weren’t for the doctor, Rose would still be at the facility; if it weren’t for her mother, she never would have been there at all.
Mother had no right to act superior, there was no room for her on the moral highroad; it was like Poer had said: they were both pawns in the Director’s scheme, they were both equally at fault. It was time to stop shifting the blame, it was time to put things right; pointing fingers and making excuses wouldn’t solve anything; it was time to stop playing the Director’s game, it was time to act like grownups.
Why were all the adults in Rose’s life such children?
“She’s going to need patience and understanding,” Poer explained to Rose’s Mother. “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.”
What was he saying? Overwhelmed? All her time in captivity, Rose hadn’t dared hope for freedom. Now that she was actually tasting it, she couldn’t think of anything she wanted more. Now Poer thought she couldn’t handle it, he thought it would overwhelm her? She looked at him indignantly; indignant, and afraid. He wouldn’t restrict her freedom now, would he? He couldn’t take it away from her; surely, he wouldn’t crush her dream before it had time to flourish.
“She’s lost not only her childhood,” he continued, “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 yet ready to be let loose into the free world.”
Not ready to be let loose into the free world. There it was, he’d said it. Poer wasn’t giving her freedom after all. At that moment, Poer had sounded just like Kayla.
Her new home, her old life, their old house, her mother, that man, Daddy… this wasn’t freedom, this was just another prison.
Just like Kayla.
No! Rose would not have something dangled in front of her, just for it to be taken away. If these people wouldn’t give her her freedom, then she’d just have to find a way to get it for herself; if they wouldn’t give her what she wanted, if they would keep from her what was hers, then she’d take it from them.
“you’ll need to prepare her, teach her so she can live a normal life, a happy life. It may take a long time; you may also want to think about hiring a private tutor or homeschooling 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; I think it would good 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 contacts.”
“Will she need glasses?” the woman asked, “does she have a prescription?”
Rose phased out of the conversation once more. Poer had already explained about her eyes, it seemed that now he was simply filling her mother in.
Rose couldn’t tell what the man was thinking. Part of her wished she could have developed a special ability to read minds like Megan. Did Poer intend for Rose to be hidden away, placed under house arrest for the remainder of her life?
Perhaps he was simply playing the long-game; he had suggested she be allowed to enter public school eventually. Rose could be patient; she’d play along for now. She’d been a prisoner for ten years, what was one or two more?
Rose wished that Megan were here. Maybe the eternal optimist would assure her that her worries were unfounded, that her trust in Poer was justified; or maybe she would take the side of the man she called Daddy and simply tell Rose what she wanted to hear, what she needed to hear to keep her compliant, control Rose the way the director had used Megan to control the Psychiatrist.
Rose didn’t know what to think. Her previous doubts in the Psychiatrist had been unfounded, and had led her to Kayla’s manipulation. If she’d only trusted him before, maybe she would have turned out more like Megan; and although that thought did somewhat sicken her, she couldn’t deny that Megan’s imprisonment had been significantly less restrictive than her own.
Was this the same situation? Should she have faith in Poer and trust him blindly like Megan would? Admittedly, Megan’s mindreading powers would have made it an easy decision, but Rose would have to make do without.
She had no choice. She had to trust Poer, and by extension, Mother.
“If that’s everything,” Poer said to the woman, “I suppose I’ll leave the rest to you.” This was it; he was handing her over; Rose was being left in the custody of her mother.
Rose looked to Ollie. Their eyes met. He held her gaze before turning back to face her mother. This was it, their final good-bye.
“Very well,” her mother said, “are you ready?” Rose, whose eyes had been transfixed on Poer, jumped at the sound of her Mother’s voice. She looked into the woman’s bright, emerald eyes. She’d heard her speak to Ollie, but this was different. Mother was finally addressing her. “Let’s go home.”
Rose looked between the two adults. Her head was spinning. This was like a dream. Her time with Poer had been something she’d never expected to happen, and now he’d actually reunited her with her family. It still didn’t seem real.
Was this actually happening, or was it some kind of cruel trick? Would she come to regret this night in the future, or would she simply regret her inhibitions? Here she was: Mother, she’d come all this way, just for her.
Mother, who had always been so busy. Mother, who never had time for her. Mother, who never listened, never cared, whose concerns were always elsewhere; she was here, just for Rose.
Rose had changed a lot since she’d been gone, perhaps the same could be said for Mother. She’d come out of her way in the middle of the night, to this secluded area, all for Rose, just for Rose.
Mother held Rose’s gaze, looking upon her, studying her, taking her in, showing genuine interest and care. Aside from Ollie and Megan, the only person who had ever looked upon her like this, shown any interest in her, in her wellbeing, had been Kayla.
Rose shook away the swirling whirlwind clouding her vision, shaking the burden from her shoulders as she ran to embrace the older woman, her family, her mother.
As she closed the distance and fell into her mother’s body, she felt lighter than she could ever remember. She made contact, arms wrapping around the older woman, hugging her, embracing her, holding her tight.
Rose hoped for the warmth of Mother’s arms around her, to wrap her tightly, snugly, securely, to chase out the chill from her back, but they never came. It was Mother, after all; she’d never been the most affectionate person. Rose supposed that she wasn’t much different. Perhaps it was a trait she’d inherited; she remembered how it annoyed her when Megan used to hug her back at the facility. Now, it appeared that the shoe was on the other foot.
Rose felt her cheeks burning, remembering that they weren’t alone. What did Poer think of her right now? She tried to hide her embarrassment, pressing her face to her mother’s chest.
“Is that all?” Mother asked, catching Rose off guard, making her jump once more, her grip on the woman tightening. Her tone, it felt so cold, so hard. Frost seeped into the warmth of their embrace like winter fog, chilling it, running down Rose’s back like ice.
“I believe so,” Poer replied. Rose was able to relax slightly when she realised that her mother’s icy tone hadn’t been directed at her. “Looks like this is goodbye.”
Rose turned her head and looked to Ollie as he approached her, as he reached for her. The girl flinched, eyes shut tight; but relaxed once more as she felt his hand atop her head, gently caressing her hair the way he must’ve done with Megan countless times before.
Rose, sure that her blush was deepening, let loose a small groan of protest.
“Looks like this is it,” Poer said, retracting his arm, “have a good life.”
This might be the last she ever saw of him, her last chance to say goodbye, her last chance to thank him for everything he’d done. She took it, she had to.
She thanked him, her words coming out clumsy and awkward.
“Don’t mention it,” Poer smiled, that single expression filling her with a warmth that her mother’s touch couldn’t. “And… you can call me Ollie.”
Rose looked into the man’s eyes; the smile remained on his face.
“Do you want something in return?” her mother asked. Did she want to pay him back for returning her daughter, to show her gratitude; or did she actually think the psychiatrist was expecting some form of payment? Didn’t she know Poer… Ollie? Didn’t she know this was all part of his redemption?
“I’m just trying to make amends,” the man explained, “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 may have your family watched, maybe even attacked, like… like mine was.”
His family? Was he talking about Maybelle? Is that how the director managed to get hold of her? She must have been abducted from her home.
Suddenly, the realisation hit her. Ollie had mentioned this before, at the facility. Ollie’s family, the director had them killed. Would he do the same to get Rose back? He had vowed to reclaim her eventually. The way he spoke, he’d made it seem like it was only a matter of time, like it was inevitable. Just how far would he be willing to go? Ollie told her that the director had blackmailed her mother, forced her to abandon Rose. Would he kill her this time? Would they ever really be safe?
Rose couldn’t go back. Not now, not ever. She’d resist. She’d rather die fighting than go back to being that man’s lab rat.
“Are you suggesting we hide?” her mother asked, “move around?”
“I hope that won’t be necessary, 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 seemed to consider this for a moment, then finally agreed. “We’ll try it your way, for now. You have my number.”
That must have been the end of the conversation. Rose felt the woman shift. Mother stepped away from her, gripped her by the arm, and pulled her along behind her like a dog on a leash. It was just like ten years ago. The girl could do nothing as her mother led her away. She hadn’t even said thank you or goodbye.
Rose sent one last fleeting look in Ollie’s direction as her mother led her away from him. “Goodbye, doc— Ollie!” she called out, raising her arm in an awkward, haphazard wave.
“Goodbye, Rose,” Ollie said quietly, returning the wave with a sad smile. Mother was ushering her so fast, Rose had only just heard him, but she knew what he’d said. It may not have been the most dramatic of goodbyes, but it was what it was, and Rose knew she’d never forget him or what he’d done, both good and bad.
Rose remained passive as she allowed Mother to usher her over to the waiting car. Though her face appeared calm and stoic, the emotions bubbled within her, just below the surface.
It was hard to believe that this was happening. She was with Mother, she was actually going home; Rose hadn’t dared to hope that such a thing could be possible, that it would ever actually happen. Even during her days with Ollie, her mind had avoided the thought; she hadn’t wanted to dwell on it in case it didn’t happen, in case it didn’t work out, in case it all happened to be part of some cruel trick; she didn’t want to jinx herself.
Now that she’d opened the door on the matter, it was beginning to overwhelm her. The thoughts swarmed over her, buzzing around in her head, in her stomach. Rose could barely contain it: the excitement, the nervousness, the anxiousness. Ollie had said it: this was a second chance. That seemed so long ago now. Rose still wasn’t sure how things would go; she hadn’t forgiven Mother for leaving her in that position, for lying to her; but something inside her was telling her to believe. It wanted her to believe, to trust; in Mother, in what she said, in what she did; to believe that they had a chance, a future, a family. There was a tiny ray of light, a tiny voice in her head telling her to trust, to have faith; it was hope.
Rose wanted this, she wanted a new life, she wanted to go home. She still didn’t know if it was wise to trust the woman who had abandoned her, but she’d give her the benefit of the doubt. She’d trust her, at least for now, see how things worked out.
Rose would play this by ear. If all went well, if everything went the way Ollie had planned, the way they all hoped, then it would be worth the risk. Rose would give anything to live the happy, peaceful life that Ollie wished for her, the chance they’d all given so much to achieve.
It was worth a shot. Besides, Mother was no prison warden. Even if her home weren’t ideal, it had to be a vast improvement over the alternative she was used to. Surely Mother wouldn’t lock her in her room. Even if the worst came to pass and things plummeted south, even if Mother couldn’t provide the pleasant life Rose wanted; the security in her house wasn’t likely to be anywhere near as tight as the facility. Mother didn’t have roaming guards, or a sentient forest, or the isolation of a remote island.
If the worst came to pass, then Rose could always leave. One way or another, she would be free.
The pair reached their destination, coming to a halt before the waiting vehicle. Rose looked it over from her new vantage point.
The car was sleek. Rose really liked the look of it, it’s smooth shape, it’s light, subtle colour, it’s magnificent sheen; not at all dull or dreary, it was a metallic grey that seemed to glisten, even in the low light of the parking lot.
Rose wondered what the inside would be like. Ollie’s car had carried a smell that the girl couldn’t quite place, but she’d liked it. Would this car smell the same, would its seats be as soft and comfortable, would they snuggle her with a warmth that invited her to drift in and out of sleep as she pleased?
Rose couldn’t help but wonder. She turned from the car once more to look at Mother. She felt that sensation rising in her stomach again, those emotions, fluttering like butterflies. Excitement, hope, fear, anxiety. She tried to reign them in, tried to contain her emotions.
The girl stood patiently, taking in the woman’s blank expression, her expressionless face. The two remained, motionless, silent, each looking upon the other, each gazing into the other’s eyes. Rose attempted a doe-eyed smile: a look that would have suited Megan. Her mother didn’t reciprocate; she continued to look wordlessly upon her daughter for a moment longer.
Finally, she opened a door on the car, gesturing for the girl to enter.
Rose watched as her mother opened the door, eyeing her quizzically. She wanted her in the back, why? With Ollie, she’d sat in the front. Why did Mother want her in the back, did she not want to sit beside her? Perhaps Mother still saw her as a little girl; after all, it had been a long time since they’d seen each other, and Rose had always sat in the back seat, back in those days; but she was a lot bigger and older now.
Rose supposed she shouldn’t pout; if she wanted Mother to see her as a big girl, then the first step was to act like it. She dismissed the childish feelings of protest, swallowing them even as she felt them attempting to claw their way defiantly up her throat. She supposed she should feel grateful that Mother was taking her back at all. She’d invited Rose into her home, into her car; it didn’t really matter where she sat. Rose turned her quizzical expression into one of compliance and gratitude, looking up at the woman with one last unrequited smile, before turning from her to enter the car.
Rose took one look inside and froze, eyes widening in shock. The previous expression slipped from her face and shattered on the concrete floor, leaving a void where her smile had been. Her gaunt, expressionless face appeared barren and empty.
Rose looked between her mother and the car’s interior, muscles moving slowly, brain barely functioning as she tried to process the realisation before her.
This was unexpected. She knew it shouldn’t have been, but for whatever reason, it was.
The car wasn’t empty, there was somebody inside. That would explain why Rose was expected to sit in the back, but then why was that man also in the back? Shouldn’t he take the front seat, or better yet, be the one driving? Adults in the front, children in the back; isn’t that how it was supposed to go, and why hadn’t he come out to meet her, to meet Ollie?
Was Ollie even aware of the man’s presence? He’d never mentioned him. Would Ollie have agreed to hand Rose over if he’d known about this man, who he was, what he was, what he could do, what he had done?
The man smiled up at her as his eyes roamed over her body. Rose subconsciously crossed her arms over her chest, as if covering herself, as though she’d been caught in a state of undress. She felt as though the man were invading her personal space with his eyes; he’d only looked, but it felt as though he’d touched her.
“Don’t be shy, girl,” the man said, a crooked smile spoiling his features, “You remember me, don’t you?”
Oh, she remembered. How could she ever forget this man?
Since leaving the facility, she’d barely thought about the man before her. The pleasant memories with the doctor had replaced the nightmares of her past, both from the home she’d been trapped in since Ollie found her, and the one before that, the one she’d been born into.
She remembered him now, though; she doubted she’d ever forget him again.
Oh yes, she knew who this man was, but she wished to god that she didn’t. She wished that she had forgotten him. She wished that the memories of her childhood were gone. Why couldn’t Ollie’s brother have taken those from her when he decided to take her freedom?
She wished that it was just her and Mother. She wished that this man had never entered their lives. Without him, they could have been happy. Without him, Mother might not have given her up.
Maybe not. She couldn’t trust that information; it had come from Kayla.
Kayla had suggested that this man convinced her mother to abandon her, to leave her for Ollie to find.
If this man truly had wanted to get rid of her, then why would he accept her back now? Why would he go along with it, had he changed his mind? Why did he want to be rid of her in the first place? It didn’t make sense. Rose didn’t understand.
According to Ollie’s version of events, it hadn’t been this man, but the director, who had forced her mother’s hand, convinced her, blackmailed her into abandoning her daughter, leaving her in the open, leaving her for Ollie to find, to collect, to deliver.
It did seem to add up. The director was the only one who had benefited from the arrangement, wasn’t he? Perhaps the man in the car hadn’t had anything to do with it at all.
“It’s been a long time,” the man smiled up at her. It looked genuine, a real smile, as though he were actually happy to see her; but something about the man still made her uneasy. She didn’t trust him, and she never would. “You’ve certainly changed, haven’t you? You’ve grown, matured. I’ve missed you, you know. Aren’t you going to say hello?”
Rose looked away, looked to her mother. The woman seemed to be sending a glance in the man’s direction, but quickly returned her gaze to Rose. “Answer him,” she chastised. “Don’t be rude, neither of us has seen you in a long time.”
Rose’s eyes widened; she hadn’t expected that, but perhaps she should have.
She turned back to the man in the car. He was still looking up at her, still smiling, still taking her in, admiring the changes that time had made to her body, the changes that he hadn’t been there to see; whether that was his fault or not, Rose still didn’t know.
Rose turned back, looking over her shoulder. Ollie was still there, watching her, probably waiting to make sure everything worked out before leaving. He wouldn’t want her to be stranded, all alone in this parking lot, abandoned for real.
Rose wondered whether it was too late to go back, call the whole thing off and just stay with Ollie; she was sure that Megan would approve, once he managed to get her out of that hell. If he managed to get her out of that hell. Perhaps Rose could have been some use to him, or perhaps she’d be a burden. Perhaps she’d be captured; perhaps she’d wind up back in her cell, back at the facility. She wondered which of the two fates would be worse, but she supposed she’d have to keep moving forward. There was no sense in winding up back there. There was no sense in letting Megan’s sacrifice be in vain.
Ollie must have noticed her looking at him, he must have noticed her hesitation, her apprehension. He smiled at her encouragingly, nodding her on, pushing her forward. He’d done all this for her, after all. It was too late to go back, they’d done too much, come too far, both Ollie and Mother.
Rose turned back to the man in the car. Dejectedly, she answered him; better to get it over with, than risk angering Mother. “Hello… Daddy.”
“No need to be shy,” the man beamed up at her, “Get in, sit next to me. We have some catching up to do.” The man patted the empty seat between them, as if such a gesture were inviting.
Rose looked to her mother, wordlessly asking whether she had to; the girl would have preferred to take the front seat, but her mother nodded her head, all but answering the unasked question. Rose gave one last dejected sigh and climbed in, her mother closing the door behind her. The sound seemed so final, like a cage door swinging shut, the mechanical clang of a heavy gate, the sterile beep of an electronic lock, sealing her in, sealing her fate.
“Come now,” the man said, as if sensing her apprehension, “Give Daddy a hug.” He moved closer and placed a possessive arm around Rose’s shoulder. Ollie had done the same only moments before, but that had felt different. Ollie had provided her comfort and support; this man’s arm had a lot more weight to it. It was restricting, claustrophobic, suffocating.
Rose simply sat there, frozen stiff, unable to move, unable to think, unable to breathe. While the scene played out around her, her mother had made her way to the driver’s seat. Rose caught her mother’s eye in the rear-view mirror, sensing her thoughts. Mother was telling her to behave herself, to play along. The man was trying, he just wanted a hug; she should give it to him, she should stop being rude and just give it to him, give him what he wanted.
Half-heartedly, Rose leaned into the man. His scent wasn’t what she’d imagined; his cologne, or was it the aroma of alcohol, wasn’t nearly as strong as she remembered; in fact, she didn’t smell it on him at all. Still, the man’s proximity made her uneasy.
“There, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?” he asked her, stroking her hair, like Ollie had done only moments before; but again, his touch failed to provide her with any of Ollie’s comfort or warmth; on the contrary, it left her feeling cold and uncomfortable. “You look good. I like your hair long.”
“I never had a chance to get it cut,” Rose replied. To be honest, she didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter. She supposed that shorter hair would require less work; that’s probably why the girls at the facility all had their hair cut short, like Megan. Kayla had insisted that Rose’s hair be allowed to grow; she seemed to prefer it like that; it made her stand out, it made her special, unique, a cut above the other lab rats.
“Do you want to get it cut?” Daddy asked her, bringing her out of her reverie.
“I think it looks good on you.”
“It’s okay like this, I could maybe use some more clothes, though.” Rose clutched the bag to her, the bag that Ollie had given her, the bag that contained her few possessions: a single change of clothes, some undergarments, and the stuffed animal Ollie had bought on a whim.
“Don’t you have any in that bag?”
“I have a spare t-shirt and a pair of long pants,” that would have been useful in the forest, Rose thought, slightly cursing the irony, “and some underwear.”
“I think that’s enough for now,” her mother interjected, as though silencing the unreasonable request of a spoiled child.
“Come now,” the man argued, “We can spare the money, why don’t the two of you go shopping tomorrow? It can be a chance for you to catch up.” Rose looked up and caught the man’s eye, her head still pressed flush against his chest; he smiled down at her and spoke softly. “Though I must say, I do like what you’re wearing now.”
“Ollie picked them out,” Rose shrugged.”
“Ollie?” the man asked, “I hope he’s not a boyfriend of yours.” Rose couldn’t tell whether the man was making a tasteless joke, or being serious.
“So do I,” Mother added. “His name is Doctor Poer, perhaps we should address him as such. It is improper to be on first name basis with our doctors, no matter how unprofessional they may be.” Rose’s eye drifted over to the rear-view mirror. Had Mother just insulted the man that saved her from that hell, the hell that Mother had left her in?
Rose looked down, wanting to change the subject. She suddenly became fascinated with her own clothes. Ollie had picked them, though she doubted he’d put much thought into it; neither had she, at the time. Function over form had been what mattered. Still, they weren’t too bad. “These clothes are fine,” she said, “but I didn’t get to choose. Ollie—Doctor Poer gave them to me when he broke me out.”
“Could you not leave with what you were wearing?”
“Hardly.” Rose felt her face suddenly flush with warmth, and it had nothing to do with the way it was pressed against Daddy’s chest. “He gave me these clothes so that I could cover myself. We were treated like animals in there, they didn’t even bother to clothe us.”
“Disgusting,” her mother snorted, voice dripping with contempt at the very thought.”
“So you had to sit around in just your underwear?” Daddy asked.
“No, I…” Rose’s voice suddenly became very quiet. “I was naked.” By the silence that overtook the car, she wasn’t sure if anyone had heard what she’d just said. Part of her hoped that they hadn’t.
“Weren’t you cold?” Daddy placed an arm around her as if trying to comfort her, trying to keep her warm.
“I suppose I got used to it,” Rose replied, “These clothes are the first outfit I’ve had to wear in years, and I’ve only had it for around a month.”
“You and that man…” Mother began, “You were alone with him for a month?”
“I’m not sure how long it was exactly, a few weeks maybe. He wanted to make sure I was presentable before he returned me, make sure I was healthy… give the bruises time to heal.”
“They hurt you?” Daddy asked. He almost sounded concerned.
“It was like breaking out of prison. It wasn’t a simple case of walking through the front door. It was a hard escape. I was almost captured. Something grabbed me, drugged me, dragged me along the ground.”
“Something? Not someone?”
“It’s hard to explain. I was tied up, dragged by the leg, cut up. I was unconscious when Ollie—Doctor Poer saved me.”
“As long as that’s all he did,” Mother interjected.
“He was the most trustworthy person there, as it turned out. Megan got it worse than me.”
“Megan? Who’s Megan?” Daddy asked.
“One of the other girls. She was helping us, she was supposed to escape with us, but… she didn’t make it.”
“Is she dead?”
“No. She was surrounded. We had to leave her there.” Rose shuddered to think of the state Megan had been in when they’d found her.
“You left her behind?” Mother asked. Her tone didn’t seem overly concerned, more curious.
“She insisted. The doctor intended to save us both, but he was forced to choose, and he’d already promised to get me out.” Rose met her mother’s eye in the rear-view mirror. “He wanted to keep his promise to you. I think he intends to go back for her.”
“Seems like you’ve all been through a lot,” Mother said. “At least it’s over now.” Rose could only hope that she was right.
Rose heard the car’s engine start, and pulled away from the man so she could put her seatbelt on. If nothing else, it was an excuse to put some distance between them. She felt the man’s eyes on her, as if he knew what she was thinking. Surely the man didn’t feel rejected; he had no right to, not after everything he’d done.
On the other hand, this was a second chance for them all. Mother was giving her a home; in exchange, Rose was expected to forget the past so they could all try again to live as a family, be a family. Rose was supposed to forgive the one she called Mother; by extension, she supposed that meant also forgiving the man she called Daddy. Forgive everything, forget everything. At the very least, she should try to give them a chance.
Who knew, perhaps he really had changed.
As the car began to move, Rose found herself staring forlornly out the window.
Her vision roamed the parking lot, the empty square of concrete, coming to rest on the lone rental car, and on the man who’d driven it. Their eyes met, separated by the pane of glass, and by the ever-increasing distance between them.
Rose supposed this would be the last time she’d see the man. She owed him a lot; if it weren’t for Poer, she’d still be in her cell, under Kayla’s influence. What would she be doing now, what would have been in store for her, had she still been there? What Kayla had said to her, ‘a fate worse than death,’ the girl didn’t even want to know what that might have entailed.
What if Ollie hadn’t found her in the first place, what if it had been someone else? She would most likely have wound up at the facility eventually; it was the director’s will, but if Ollie hadn’t been the one sent to capture her, he wouldn’t have felt guilty enough to free her, and it was unlikely that anyone else at the facility had his sense of justice. Rose had thought she could trust Kayla, that Kayla had her best interests at heart; it was obvious in hindsight how that had turned out. The other doctors and scientists would likely have tricked her too; she’d have been no better off, perhaps she’d even be worse.
Rose watched Ollie’s figure in the distance as it shrunk smaller and smaller, as the car took her away from him, as Mother took her away from him, as she took her home.
Rose continued to stare forlornly at that spot long after it had fallen from view. She gave her last mental goodbye for the man and let loose a breath she’d been holding, letting it go as she let him go.
He was gone; he was out of her life, they all were. Ollie, Megan, Rexl, Kayla; that part of her life was over, and the next chapter was about to begin; the girl could only hope that it would have a happy ending.
Rose continued to stare out the window as the car took her further away; out of the city, onto the highway, into more and more unfamiliar surroundings.
The time dragged on and Rose watched as the scenery changed around her. Buildings got smaller, houses became further apart, the road became bumpier as the surface changed from smooth and paved, to rough gravel. The roadside was lined with grass and trees. They passed under a bridge. Rose looked up and saw a train travelling atop it just as they passed underneath.
Eventually, they arrived in a suburb, far away from the city, far away from Ollie, far from that parking lot or the motel with its nosey manager; at least she had meant well, even if her enquiries had been detrimental to Ollie’s need for secrecy.
The car turned off the main road and made its way up a maze of narrow side-streets. They were ascending; Mother was driving up the side of a hill. The surroundings reminded Rose vaguely of their first home, but at the same time, they were totally unfamiliar.
The car finally reached its destination and pulled into a short driveway, crawling forward, stopping parallel to a series of steps that lead to a small, sheltered porch: the entrance of the house. Mother shut off the engine and Rose looked out at her new surroundings, at her new home. “This is a different house, isn’t it?” she asked, “How long have you lived here?”
“We made a fresh start sometime after you disappeared,” the woman explained.
After she disappeared.
That must have been what they’d told everyone, their excuse. Mother had left her at the train station. They probably said she’d wandered off or been taken; it wasn’t a total fabrication, they’d stayed close to the truth, just like Ollie at the Motel. That was their story, their excuse, their lie.
It was just as Ollie had said: If you’re going to lie, it’s best to stay as close to the truth as possible; that way you’ll be long gone before anyone realises they’ve been lied to.
Is that why they had moved? Had they been forced to, to avoid any suspicious neighbours? How long had it taken them to move, how long after her ‘disappearance’ had they moved away?
Everyone had probably pitied them, felt sorry for them; they were a distraught couple, selling their house to get away from a recent tragedy, the loss of a child.
If only the neighbours had known what really happened.
Rose turned to the man beside her. It was possible that her mother was being careful with the truth, watching her words. The man however, was trying to win her over; he wanted to be on her good side. If she asked him, he might just let it slip. Even if mother intervened here, there might be other opportunities later, when she wasn’t around. She’d have to be careful however; even Daddy wouldn’t answer the same question twice, especially if it was one that Mother didn’t want answered, a truth she wanted to hide. Rose would have to be careful about how she phrased things.
She lowered her voice, looking up into the eyes of the man beside her, capturing his attention. When she spoke, it was in a soft tone. “How long did you wait?”
“What was that?” the man asked. Rose was sure he’d heard her, but he seemed confused about her meaning, about the intent of her words.
“After… you know, my disappearance. How long did it take you to move on, find a new house, a new life?” The man seemed to catch on; Rose could see the realisation in his eyes. The man reached for her. Rose felt his hand on the back of her head, his gentle touch, his soft caress, stroking her hair. She resisted the urge to shudder.
He pulled her close, bringing her head to rest once more against his chest. “It’s not as though we wanted you gone; we really had no choice.”
“I suppose you needed to get away. All the well-wishers, the neighbours, the media.”
“Thankfully, we managed to avoid all that.”
“Their sympathy, their questions, their… suspicions?”
The man’s hand suddenly stopped moving. “What do you mean by that?” he asked. His voice sounded calm and casual, but Rose was sure she’d just struck a nerve.
“How long,” Rose asked again, “When did you sell the house?”
“It would have been about a year after… maybe a little less.”
They didn’t even wait a year. Still, they probably would have moved on sooner, if they’d been able to do so without raising questions, with the neighbours, with the Police. “I see. Thank you, for answering my question.”
“Let’s go inside,” Mother said, looking over her shoulder, regarding them with impatience.
“Right,” Daddy replied, releasing the girl and getting out of the car.
Rose looked to her mother, who caught her gaze, holding it. There was no warmth in those eyes; in fact, Daddy had seemed happier to see her than Mother was. What was the woman thinking? Was she happy to see her, to have her back? Then again, Mother had always been cold and distant, even when Rose was a little girl; perhaps this was no different, perhaps this was simply the way Mother was. Rose remembered the way she’d regarded Megan and Ollie back at the facility. Perhaps the two weren’t so different.
Daddy walked around the back of the car, approaching Rose’s side and opening her door for her. He handed her a key. “Go open the door,” he said. “I’m sure you’re excited to see the new house from the inside. Go ahead, take a look.” Rose wouldn’t have said that she was anxious, but she was interested.
She climbed out of the car, accepting the key and slinging her bag over her shoulder. “um, thanks… Daddy,” she mumbled, giving the man an awkward, one-armed hug, which he returned, clamping her to him tightly. The man clearly wanted to make an impression on her, make her feel welcome, make her feel wanted. He wanted to stay on her good side; Rose felt it was best that she do the same.
“Welcome home.” The man spoke softly into her ear.
Despite herself, the girl trembled slightly, losing her footing and falling into the man’s embrace.
Daddy eagerly caught her, holding her steady until she stepped back, a blush staining her face. “I’d better open the door,” she said, hurrying off to do just that.
As she approached the steps leading to the entrance, she looked over her shoulder and caught the two adults exchanging a glance, as though they could communicate without words. These two didn’t have powers like Megan, did they?
God, Rose certainly hoped not. Rose was used to having her privacy invaded, she was used to being leered at and stared at, she was used to being touched and poked and prodded, she was used to her body being violated in almost every sense of the word; her personal private thoughts were the only things she had left, they were the only things that were hers.
Rose climbed the three stone steps leading to the door and unlocked it with the key. As the door opened, Rose couldn’t contain the smile that crept up her face, flushing it with a warmth that, for once, didn’t stem from embarrassment, poison, or drugs.
The new smell of the unfamiliar house wafted up her nostrils as the equally unfamiliar sights rushed her eyes. Before her lay a hallway that opened up into several rooms. Was all this hers to explore? Had she been given free rein to roam the house, to go where she pleased? The word echoed in her head once again.
She was home.
Rose stepped over the threshold, allowing the house to swallow her. To her left was a large, open living room; against the wall, was a window giving a view of the street outside. There was a couch and several chairs outlining the perimeter of the room. Opposite the couch, on top of a black cabinet, sat a television, just like the one at the motel. This living room was about the size of her cell back at the facility.
Rose turned around. Straight across the hall, to the left of the entranceway, was another room, a little smaller. There was a long table in the middle, surrounded by wooden chairs. This must have been the dining room.
The next room on the left side of the hall was the kitchen, connected to the adjacent Dining room by a door. On the right side of the hall, opposite the kitchen, was a bathroom. The two were a matching set; both had glistening white floor tiles, rather than the grey carpet that lined the rest of the house. Both were a clean, sterile white that reminded Rose of the facility. She didn’t suppose she’d spend much time in these rooms, they’d probably leave her with bad memories.
Beyond the bathroom on the right, was a toilet and laundry; on he left, was a linen closet. Beyond that, there were two more rooms, one on the left, and one on the right: bedrooms, and beyond them, at the end of the hall was the master bedroom.
Of the three bedrooms, only the one on the right was open; the others had closed doors, barring her entrance. Rose approached the open one, assuming it to be hers.
The girl popped her head past the door, looking into the room. It was clean, as if it had never been used, like it was newly furnished. It looked as though it had only recently been put together.
The room wasn’t particularly big. In the far-left corner sat a single bed, upon which was draped a large, pink comforter. The room didn’t have a built-in closet; instead, there was a wooden one standing against the wall in the far-right corner. A vanity cabinet with a large mirror stood between them, against the back wall, a chest of drawers sitting next to it. On the left wall beside the bed was a large window; the view was nothing spectacular, but it was nice to have something to look at other than the four walls. Out the window, she could see the backyard, concrete pathways venturing into short grass, neatly maintained, though looking a little dry. There was a line of trees running along the back fence, though luckily, it was nothing like the dark forest she’d been trapped in. It might actually be nice to sit out there in the sun one day.
The walls of the room were a two-tone colour; the top half of the wall was a soft pink, like bubblegum or candyfloss; the bottom was a dark, brownish red, like the colour of dried blood.
Rose approached the empty closet, opening it to see the space within. Near the top was a rail lined with coat hangers; the bottom third of the closet was dedicated to shelf space.
Such a big closet, so much space, and so little to put in it.
Rose carefully placed her bag on the shelf near the bottom of the closet and pulled out her few clothes, hanging them up one by one. Her undergarments, she folded and placed into the chest of drawers.
She pulled the stuffed mouse from the bag, remembering the man who’d given it to her, wondering what he might have been doing right at that moment.
Rose hugged the toy to her, caressing the soft fur of its back, eyes closing as she brushed it gently across her face, unable to stop the smile breaking through her features.
Rose closed the closet and looked around the room, seeking a home for her furry friend. She placed it on the end of the vanity cabinet, positioning it so that it was facing the bed. Perhaps it would watch over her as she slept, protect her in Ollie’s place.
It was a silly thought, but a nice one. Rose let loose a short laugh, the strange sound catching in her throat.
She didn’t quite know what to make of the room’s colour scheme. She sat down upon the pink comforter covering the bed; it was soft. She removed her shoes, remembering her time at the motel, and lay back, relaxing into the bed’s soft embrace. She supposed it didn’t really matter what colour it was, so long as it was comfortable, although part of her was grateful that the room wasn’t white.
A white bedroom. Rose doubted she’d be able to relax in such a room. She didn’t know if she liked all this pink, but she did like the way the bed welcomed her; it was like lying on a cloud, a pink, puffy cloud.
The girl closed her eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips.
As she felt her thoughts and worries slip away, her mind insisted on saying it once again, that word.
This was it.
The girl was finally home.
Rose gently woke to the sound of her mother’s voice in the distance; an unfamiliar, yet strangely nostalgic small wafted into her nostrils. What was that?
Rose opened her eyes at the sound of a hand knocking sharply against her door. She turned a sleepy head to see Daddy standing in the doorway, beaming down at her.
“I see you’ve made yourself at home.”
“This room, this bed… it kind of called to me. I must’ve fallen asleep.” A new worry suddenly hit her, pulling her roughly from her dreamlike state with all the grace and subtlety of one pushed from a roof. “This was supposed to be my room, wasn’t it?”
“Well, it appears you’ve claimed it regardless. Don’t worry about it, this room is yours from now on.” Rose felt a sensation of relief rush over her like a rolling wave. She didn’t know why she’d felt so apprehensive; something had just seemed wrong. “We’ll talk later,” Daddy said, “For now, your mothers made some food. Are you hungry?”
As if on cue, the girl’s stomach answered him, rumbling at the prospect of eating once more, much preferring this new lifestyle of more than one meal per day.
“I suppose I am,” Rose replied.
“Good. If you’re hungry, then it should go down easier. I don’t know if you remember your mother’s cooking… well, maybe it’s better than what you’ve been used to these past few years.” Daddy looked over his shoulder, tossing a careful eye down the hall. “We’d better go before it gets cold.”
Rose nodded. “Okay,” she said, getting up and stretching her tired body, before following the man down the hall to the dining table.
The three of them sat around the dining table. Rose sat in the middle seat on one side, the other two sat on the other, across from her, Mother to the left, Daddy to the right. There were three more empty chairs, allowing places for six people. Did they often have guests?
On Rose’s plate was a portion of a large omelette; the taste and smell were so familiar to her, but she couldn’t remember ever having eaten it before. Perhaps Mother had made it for her when she was younger, and she’d simply forgotten.
The omelette was yellow, slightly brown on the outside, with flecks of pink and green. Ham, and some kind of vegetable, Rose wasn’t sure.
The three ate mostly in silence. The taste of the food, much like the smell, was strangely familiar; difficult to place, but not unpleasant. She must have had it before.
Rose looked between the two adults. They would occasionally send glances toward each other, but they were mostly focused on the meal in front of them, eating in silence. Every so often, Daddy would ask Rose something, about her or the facility, making small talk like a father whose daughter had just come back from camp. Rose would answer him, then go back to eating.
The meal continued in that manner, until eventually, when they were done, Mother offered to run Rose a bath.
“A—a bath?” the girl asked, thinking she might have choked on her food, had there been any left in her mouth; she’d have to settle for words instead.
“Yes, a nice hot bath before bed, or would you prefer a shower?”
Rose hadn’t had a bath in ages. Sure, they would wash her down at the facility using high-Pressure hoses, but it couldn’t have been called luxurious by any means.
“Actually, a bath sounds really good.”
Mother nodded and left the table, leaving Rose alone with Daddy.
They sat in an awkward silence without the meal to distract them.
Rose glanced in his direction to find his eyes on her.
“How was it?” he asked. When Rose answered only with a questioning glance, he added, “The food, is your mother’s cooking everything you remembered?”
“I don’t remember much, but it did taste familiar.”
“That’s one word for it,” Daddy joked.
“I liked it.”
“So, better than what you’re used to? I don’t imagine they gave you much in the way of home cooking.”
That reminded Rose of what Ollie had said in the Doctor’s office. He’d seemed surprised, unsure of what Kayla had been feeding her. Had Rose received special treatment?
“The food they gave me was fine, not a lot of flavour, but I can’t complain.” That was true. What right did she have to complain? Especially if it had been prepared specially for her, if it were better than what the others had received.
“So, was it like hospital food?”
“Better than gruel, then.”
Is that what the others had been given? Rose had never thought to ask.
They sat in silence after that, Rose staring ahead, still wondering about what food the other animals back in the lab might have been fed, until Mother’s voice came from across the hall, bringing her back, calling her once again. Rose’s eyes darted in the direction of its source, then back to the man opposite her.
“You’d better go,” he said. Rose nodded and stood, leaving the man on his own to deal with the mess of dishes around the table.
Making her way up the hall, Rose met her mother in the bathroom just as she was shutting off the water. “How’s that?” Mother asked.
Rose looked into the long, white bathtub. It was about half full with clear water, and she thought she could just see some steam emanating from it.
She placed her hand into the water. “It’s hot.”
You’ll want it a bit hot, as long as it’s not scalding.” Rose nodded. “There’s a towel ready on the back of the door, I’ll leave you to it.
Rose thanked her mother and the woman left her alone, closing the door behind her. Rose stepped out of her clothes and slowly into the hot water, hotter than she expected, but as Mother had just said, it was supposed to be that way.
Slowly, Rose lowered herself into the bath, feeling a head rush as the hot water crawled up her leg, up the length of her body, sliding across her skin, covering her, devouring her, swallowing her whole. The bath was lower, deeper than she’d expected. A small voice in her head began to panic, afraid that she might drown in it, but she eventually reached the bottom, sitting huddled, enveloped by the heat of the water.
Rose began to recline, leaning back, her head still spinning until she was laying securely against the back of the tub, her head resting against the ridge.
Finally, slowly, she released the breath she’d been holding in and allowed her body to relax, eyes closing as the hot water embraced her. Content, relaxed, at peace.
Rose hadn’t had a bath in over ten years. She knew she should begin washing herself, but she just wanted to soak for a while. This was nice.
Rose gave in to her body’s desire to recline further, sliding down along the back of the tub, lying across the bottom, the water coming up to her chin.
She looked down at the way her scarlet hair sprawled out about her in the water, reminding her of the image of a mermaid. She closed her eyes, giving in to lethargy, giving in to the supreme comfort. She just wanted to lie there for a while, relax before getting to work cleaning herself.
Rose didn’t know how long she’d been soaking; there were no clocks, and she’d lost track of the time, caught up in the relaxation of the bath.
Eventually, she decided she’d have to get on with it, and began to wash her hair with a nearby bottle of shampoo, probably her mother’s. It was a white liquid that smelled faintly of coconut. After lathering a fair amount of it in her hair, Rose noticed a detachable shower head above her and stood up to reach for it.
Turning on the water, a chill ran beneath her skin as the cold water ran over top of it. She stood, her feet submerged in the hot water of the bath as the shower head sprayed her with cold. It reminded her of the facility. This shower head had much less pressure than she was used to, but that wasn’t a bad thing; the Facility’s water pressure was so high that it hurt. She remembered thinking once that the water might actually strip the skin off her bones.
After a few moments, the cold water began to warm, embracing her with comfort once again.
Eventually, Rose’s bath came to an end. She was done. She had drained the water and dried herself off with a towel hanging on the rack on the back of the bathroom door. She had then wrapped herself in the towel and wrung out her hair over the tub. Back at the facility, her hair had been left to air dry. Rose wondered what her mother did, the vague memory of a hair dryer filling her mind; its droning sound and the gentle, warm air it blew felt strangely soothing to the girl in her memories.
Rose reached for the second towel on the rack and dried her hair with it, extracting most of the water.
That would do; the air would take care of the rest, unless Mother came to do it with her dryer, but somehow, Rose doubted that would happen.
Mother seemed a little distant. Things between them were awkward, as though they were strangers.
That made sense, the girl supposed. After all, it had been years since they had last seen each other; it would take time. Soon enough, things would be back to the way they used to be.
“But… Mother was always distant,” the girl said, giving voice to her doubts. Would things really change over time, would they get better? Mother had always been like this. Rose would like to have had a better relationship with her mother, be close to her, feel about her the way that Megan felt about Ollie. She’d like to depend on her, have faith in her, trust the woman to protect her, but… that just wasn’t who she was.
“Mother doesn’t care.”
That wasn’t who either of them were.
Rose realised she didn’t want things to go back to the way they were, she wanted them to be better; she just didn’t know how; she didn’t know if it were possible.
Rose’s thoughts wandered to Ollie. What was he doing at that moment? Had he gone back to the motel? Perhaps he was already on his way to the facility, back to Megan.
The girl let out a sigh and stepped toward a window. Wiping condensation from the glass with her hand, she looked through the window and studied the stranger that stared back at her.
The girl, the woman, the stranger through the glass; she continued to stare at her. They watched each other, not moving, not speaking, a mutual curiosity shared between them. It was the only thing they had in common.
She looked just like Mother, but her hair was too long. It ran down over her face, but beneath it, the girl could see two piercing red eyes, inhuman, demonic.
The two stood still, staring at each other, unable to move.
The white room surrounded her. She could feel a presence. She was surrounded! Her hands were cramping. Fingers fused together, stiff, unmovable. Her head was spinning.
The white room grew larger. Rose was surrounded, yet she was isolated, alone. She could feel dozens of eyes watching her, but she couldn’t see to whom they belonged.
Blazing eyes, glowing in the white room, watching her, studying her, surrounding her, closing in.
She made eye contact with the stranger in the glass. The room was spinning, faster and faster. The whiteness overtook her.
Suddenly, it stopped, as quickly as it had begun. The movements ceased, the eyes were gone, the white void released her.
She was in the bathroom once again, she was… home.
After an eternity, the moment had passed, without warning or significance. The eyes had released their hold on her, and Rose stepped away from the mirror.
She… she sure had changed.
The girl wasn’t sure if she would ever get used to the sight of the gaunt, inhuman creature that lived inside that window, that mystical pane of glass.
Rose turned and left the bathroom, the towel still draped over her shoulders, wrapped around her. The cool air of the house brushed past her bare skin, chilling her as she opened the door.
Rose supposed she should hurry back to her room to get dressed, suddenly remembering that she didn’t have a complete change of clothes… did she?
Swift and smooth, the girl’s feet bounded across the carpeted floor, bouncing as she made a beeline for her room. She was light on her feet, and making good time, until she heard a voice calling her.
Rose froze at the sound of her mother’s chastising tone, looking up into those critical eyes.
Mother reprimanded her lack of attire and explained that a lady shouldn’t walk around dressed in only a towel, especially when there was a man in the house.
Rose averted her gaze, looking down at her own exposed skin, lily-white, unblemished, but starting to show signs of the cold.
“You’re not a little girl anymore,” her mother said, “You’re growing up, you have to act like it.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think… I’m not sure I have anything to sleep in.”
The woman’s hard eyes softened, just a little. “Well… I don’t suppose you can put your dirty clothes back on… that man did say you have a lot to learn. They treated you like an animal in that place; now I suppose it’s our job to make you civilised. It’s alright, I’ll take a look in my closet, see if I can find something old you can have. It might be a little big, but it should do for now, good enough to sleep in, at least.”
Rose felt the hint of a smile pulling at her face. “Thank you!” she said, rushing forward to embrace her mother, not noticing the towel that fell from her shoulders and landed in a crumpled heap behind her feet.
She heard her mother sigh, and felt an arm enclose awkwardly around her. “I suppose he’s right. We’ll have to go out tomorrow and get you some things. You can come and pick them out.”
“Just you and me?” the girl asked into her mother’s blouse, looking up to catch her eye.
“If that’s what you want… I suppose we have some catching up to do.”
Rose stepped back, noticing the rough feel of the towel under her foot. She bent down to pick it up and wrapped it tightly around herself. Mother had just chastised her for walking around in a towel, but who knew what she’d say if Rose walked around in nothing at all?
It wasn’t as though Rose particularly cared for modesty, but this was Mother’s house, so she would obey her rules.
“You’d best hurry to your room before your father sees you,” Mother said. “Dry your hair properly and go straight to bed, I’ll be in to see you later.
Rose looked down at her bare form. Was it okay to sleep like this?
“I’ll bring you some night clothes, but you should cover yourself with something, even if it’s just a blanket. We don’t want you catching a cold.”
Rose nodded and voiced her agreement, pulling the towel tighter and sidestepping around her mother, making her way quietly to her room, to her bed; comfortable, soft, warm. She’d fallen asleep on it earlier; now she was looking forward to calling it a night in a bed of her own.
Hers, it was really hers.
She felt that smile pulling at her lips once again, repressing the tiniest chuckle as she entered her room.
Rose stepped through the doorway, and the smile gradually drained from her face, sliding off and falling to the ground. The bright, soft pink of the walls seemed to drain away, leaving her surrounded by white and grey, dull and harsh. All she could see was him; her eyes locked on to his, onto the man before her, sitting on the end of the bed, her bed.
Why was Daddy here?
When he saw Rose enter the room, he leaned forward and looked at her. He wore a welcoming smile, but there was something off about it. As much as he tried to appear warm, Rose felt a chill coming from him. There was something cold and slimy lurking behind that warm smile, something dark and foreboding behind those bright, welcoming eyes.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said. He spoke softly, but his tone didn’t ease her concerns.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“We need to talk… shut the door.”
Rose’s eyes widened. Her breath hitched. Why was he here, why did he want the door closed? Had she walked into some kind of trap?
“Don’t look so nervous,” Daddy tried to reassure her. “It’s just… you’ve been away for so long, and there are things we need to discuss.”
Rose swallowed the lump in her throat. “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” She tried to sound firm, but her defiance came out more like a plea.
“I really would prefer to do this now.” He stood to his feet and approached. “Shut the door… please?” Rose remained rooted to the spot, unable to move, unable to comply, even if she’d wanted to.
Daddy grabbed her by the arm, pulling her toward him as his other hand guided the door home, closing it for her. “That’s better, much cosier. It’s cold out there, don’t you think?”
Rose felt a chill run through her body, starting from the point where Daddy was touching her. She tried to stop the shiver running down her spine, but she couldn’t control it.
“You must be cold,” Daddy observed.
Rose wanted to point out that the temperature of the room had nothing to do with the shiver that was running through her body, but thought better of it.
“Mother said I should go straight to bed.” Rose hoped that Daddy would take the hint and leave her.
“By all means,” he said, holding her close and guiding her toward the bed. Rose closed her eyes tight. The man did wear the same cologne. That scent took her back to a place she didn’t want to go.
Daddy peeled the pink comforter off the bed and dressed the girl in it, wrapping it around her and sitting her on the bed. He sat down beside her, holding her close. “If you’re cold, we’ll just have to find a way to warm you up.”
Rose shivered once again from the oppressive weight of the man’s gaze. “You really have changed,” he said. “Those red eyes of yours….”
Rose looked away, remembering the sight of that monster in the bathroom, the monster she’d seen through the window, the monster that had stared back at her, the monster in the mirror. “Inhuman…” she said, her voice coming out in a whisper.
“What was that?” Daddy asked her.
“I look like a demon. I’m not human.”
“Don’t talk like that.” The man pulled her to him, holding her close, tight. Rose’s face was pushed flush against the rough material of his shirt. That smell invaded her nostrils once again, intoxicating her in the worst way. She closed her eyes to banish the tears that were forming within. She didn’t want to go back there, to that place. The man whispered in her ear. “I think they make you look exotic, unique.” He must have noticed the tears, because he raised his hand and gently brushed them from her tightly closed eyelid. “Don’t cry over what makes you special. Open your eyes.” Rose did as she was told. “See, I think these eyes look much better than those contacts you wear. They suit you.”
“Because they’re abnormal. I’m abnormal.”
“I think they’re pretty. They match your hair.” The man stroked her face, running a hand through her long strands of wet scarlet. “I’m sorry you had to go. You know, I was in favour of it at the time.”
Rose pulled away from the man, looking him in the eye. “W-what?”
“I’m not proud of that. It was to all our benefits that you disappear. I’m sorry it had to happen. It wasn’t my idea, but I agreed to it.” He looked into her eyes, running a hand through her hair once more. “You know, I’ve really missed you. Did you miss me?”
Rose couldn’t respond; she didn’t want to say yes, but she was afraid to say no. How would he react? Would he be mad? Would he leave her alone? Would he try to teach her to appreciate him? Would he do anything to her? Would he hurt her?
The thoughts engulfed her, running circles through her mind, making her dizzy. The room was spinning around her, and her body reacted with a bout of uncontrollable tremors. For just a second, everything went black. She thought she might be sick.
“You are cold, aren’t you?” Daddy said. His voice was warm and soothing, but the sound of it chilled her to the bone. “What can we do about that?”
Rose closed her eyes tight and waited for the inevitable. Her arms moved subconsciously, of their own accord, without her consent. They latched tightly onto the nearest support pillar: the man who was holding her, the cause of her affliction. Whatever was about to pass, she hoped he’d just get it over with, make it quick. Would she at least be given that small mercy?
Just at that moment, the door opened. Rose opened her eyes. With a strength she never expected from herself, she pulled away from the man; who, with a leniency she never expected from him, allowed her to. Rose’s head snapped toward the source of the noise, the intrusion, the door, looking upon the interloper with wide, grateful eyes.
It was Mother. She eyed them suspiciously. “What’s going on in here?” she asked. Rose looked to her, feeling her core fill with relief, with warmth.
With newfound strength, she wriggled out of Daddy’s hold and moved over to Mother, leaving Daddy, the blanket, the damp towel; leaving all of it on the bed.
The woman thrust a bundle of warm, dry clothing into Rose’s chest. “I brought you something to wear, just like I said I would.”
“Thank you,” Rose said, hoping the gratitude would reach her mother’s ears; not just for the gift, but for the interruption.
“It’s about time,” Daddy said in a light-hearted tone. Was he joking? Both females in the room turned to him disapprovingly. “Wow, you two really do look alike.” Rose remembered Ollie’s words; they felt so wrong coming from this other man’s lips, in this other man’s voice. “The resemblance is uncanny.”
“I know,” Rose said, “I look just like my mother… but I have the devil’s eyes,” she added under her breath.
“It’s a good thing you got here when you did,” Daddy continued, talking to Mother. Rose could only agree with him. “This girl was shivering her ass off, she was so cold. I was running out of ideas on how to keep her warm.”
“Were you?” Mother asked him. “Well, she has something to wear now. I even put them through the dryer so they’ll be warm. Let’s give her some privacy.”
Rose hugged the clothes to her, feeling their soft, comforting warmth on her bare skin, radiating through her. “Thank you,” she said, addressing them both. “Goodnight.”
“There was something we were going to discuss,” Daddy said. Rose felt the chill return.
“Whatever it is,” Mother interjected, “I’m sure it can wait. Let’s go, let her get some sleep.”
“Very well,” Daddy agreed. “I’ll see you in the morning.” The man caught Rose’s eye. “Sweet dreams,” he said, leaving her on her own.
The two left, closing the door behind them.
Rose remained rooted to the spot, waiting until she was sure they were gone, before collapsing onto the bed.
In his house….
Ollie made his way through the darkness. There was only one path before him, both figuratively and physically. The dirt path directed him, guided by the walls of the labyrinth, the trees of the dark forest. It felt as though so much time had passed since he’d last been here, but on the other hand, it felt as though he’d only just left.
It was such a strange feeling to be coming back here, considering how much trouble it had been trying to leave. He could only hope that the forest wouldn’t play tricks on him this time. From experience, Ollie knew that it was easier getting in than it was getting out. The forest was a trap; it welcomed the unwary, but then it swallowed them whole. They could come in easily enough, but they could never leave; it wouldn’t let them go. Not a guest, not an intruder; a prisoner.
It seemed so strange that Ollie should return, that anyone in their right mind would, but here he was; he had no choice. He had promised. Megan was waiting for him.
Or perhaps she wasn’t. Perhaps she never expected to see him again, having sacrificed herself for Ollie and Rose; or rather, having been sacrificed. Perhaps she had accepted her fate when she told him to go, to take Rose and run.
No, Megan believed in him; she trusted him, had faith in him… didn’t she? There was no way she would give up hope. Hope was all she had, it was all she had to cling to, the only thing that would keep her alive, keep her sane, keep the facility from claiming her the way it had claimed Maybelle and so many others.
Ollie wouldn’t let Megan become another victim of this place, he couldn’t. He had to save her. He would save her.
Ollie continued on the path that lay before him, the only path available. There were no forks in the road, no converging paths, no tricks, no illusions, no vines. It was as though the forest wanted him to return. It had tried so hard to prevent his escape, of course it would welcome him back with open arms.
Perhaps not open arms exactly, more a lack of resistance, apathy; much like Rose’s mother.
Ollie wondered how the girl was doing. She must have settled in to her parents’ house by now. She was probably asleep in a warm bed. She deserved it, after everything she’d been through.
It was strange; Rose had seemed hesitant to enter her mother’s car at first; anxious perhaps, a fear of the unknown, but she’d climbed in, in the end. Her mother had taken her away to live a better life, a life that was just beginning, a brand-new start. It was over; dawn had broken through the darkness of the decade, the ten-year night. The sun had risen and daybreak had dawned upon her. The nightmare was over.
Ollie continued along the path, quiet, uneventful. He didn’t see a single insect scurrying through the grass. It was as though he were the last living thing, as though this forest were merely a ghost of the predatory jungle it had been before.
Finally, he reached the end. He saw it, the light at the end of the tunnel, pouring through the darkness of the dank forest.
The gate was open. It had swung shut behind them when they’d left, locking them out, barring any hope of return, leaving them at the mercy of the dark forest; but now it was open, the trap reset, ready for its next victim, ready to sacrifice the next hapless escapee to the hungry forest, assuming of course that anyone else would make it that far. Would Rexl tighten security in the wake of their escape?
Escape. Ollie let loose a snort of derision. How arrogant they had been, thinking they had escaped, thinking they were in control of the situation. The entire thing had been a trap, Rexl had been watching them all the time, rolling fixed dice, in control of all their destinies, as always. Rexl had let them escape, and now Ollie was back. Perhaps this too, was part of Rexl’s plan; Ollie wouldn’t put it past him. Rexl was the craftier of the two, always scheming, always in control.
Nothing had changed.
Ollie pressed forward; he still had a way to go. He held his breath as he moved carefully through the gate and into the courtyard, making sure to be as quiet as possible; on the lookout for any guards, visible cameras, lights; any sign of security, but there was none.
Strange. Ollie would have expected Rexl to tighten his hold on this damned facility of his, but everything looked the same, business as usual.
Nothing had changed.
Their escape had been a farce, after all. Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that everything at the facility appeared the same. Rexl would have seen paranoia as a weakness; he probably assumed the same of his men. They had to know he was in control, they had to know he was confident. Stringent new security measures might damage that illusion of dominant, unquestionable authority.
It was somewhat predictable, but not unwelcome. Ollie would be able to use that to his advantage.
Things looked to be safe, but he wouldn’t let down his guard; no sense in taking unnecessary risks.
Ollie hugged the walls, creeping swiftly through the courtyard, an act that became easier the further he went, as the overgrown garden fell behind him and the cursed tendrils of the forest gave way to paved stones.
The overhead lights shone down upon the empty courtyard; no guards, no sign of new camera installations—not that he could see, anyway. Ollie had to hope he was right. He didn’t expect it to be easy, but maybe he’d get lucky. Maybe Megan’s branded optimism would guide him back to her like some kind of divine light, like the kind of divine intervention in which he’d never believed. A smile graced his lips; he knew it wasn’t the case, but it was a pleasant thought all the same. It was nice to have dreams. It was nice to pretend.
Methodically, he made his way toward the facility’s foreboding gate: the front door. He didn’t expect it to be open, Ollie wondered if he would still be able to get in. Would his keycard work, or had Rexl changed the locks, so to speak?
Should he get the door open, would it trigger an alarm of some kind? The plan wasn’t foolproof, it relied on variables; there were things the younger Poer brother simply couldn’t control. He wasn’t like Rexl. Ollie’s plans were never perfect; there was always some measure of guesswork and an unfavorable reliance on luck, hence Megan’s insistence on Optimism, much to Rose’s chagrin. Ollie had tried to ignore her complaints and disapproval of the seeming carelessness of his escape plan, but part of him had agreed with her; the bitter, critical part of his sorry self. It was almost as though the two girls represented two different sides of him, two different aspects of his personality; one: hopeful and carefree, the other: pessimistic and self-deprecating.
There it was, the cold, depressing grey stone; the heavy door, shut tight against the massive wall; the security scanner, awaiting his keycard. The moment of truth was upon him. His hand reached inside his shirt and gripped the security device dangling from his neck, while his other hand undid the top two buttons so he could pull it out.
As he approached the door, Ollie was suddenly struck with a sharp pain to the back of his neck.
Eyes widening, body frozen in fear, his hand reached back for the source.
Was he not alone after all?
Had he been expected? Had he been careless?
Ollie turned around, eyes squinting in the dark, frantically searching for whatever could have been responsible.
Was there a guard hidden in the courtyard, or was it something from the forest?
No, it couldn’t be. The forest would have turned on him while he was still within its grasp, deep within its bowels. No, it must have been one of Rexl’s people, hidden in the courtyard, but where?
Had he been seen? Rexl must have known he was coming. If he hadn’t seen it, then he at least expected it. He must have posted someone to keep watch. Where were they?
Ollie’s eyes scanned the area, searching as quickly as he could. He had to find them and take them out before they struck again.
What had he been hit with? Poison, tranquiliser, truth serum? In any case, he had to find the one responsible and deal with them before the dart took effect.
If Ollie woke up in a cell, he might still be able to salvage this; if he could escape their captivity, he’d be that much closer to finding Megan. it was certainly one way to get in. The problem was, he’d have no control over what might happen to him until he woke up, if he woke up.
Ollie began to feel dizzy, unsure whether it was due to the drug, or his frantic searching for his attacker. In any case, as the courtyard lights became dimmer, and as the nausea grew, Ollie resigned himself to the fact that he would be taken.
Plan B it was….
Ollie woke with a headache, still wrapped in a blanket of lethargy. He lifted his tired head to try and get his bearings. Where was he, what was he doing, why had he fallen asleep?
The forest, the facility… Megan.
He looked up, that… the guard!
There was a single man standing over him, standing guard, a bored expression on his face. “’bout time you woke up,” he said. He didn’t seem to be armed; he didn’t seem overly concerned, either. Evidently, the director’s younger brother wasn’t perceived to be much of a threat. Had his confrontation with Kayla been covered up?
Ollie looked around, he must have been inside the facility, in one of the cells. This brought back memories, unpleasant ones.
As the drug began to wear off, more of Ollie’s senses returned to him, bringing with them his reasoning, cognitive ability, and knack for observation, as Kayla had put it.
Ollie noticed that he wasn’t bound or tied up. It was a sad irony that he, a captured intruder, had more freedom than many of the children they kept here. He was still a prisoner, locked in a room, under guard, but he at least had free roam of this cell; he had at least as much freedom as they’d given Rose.
This was the plan now. He was in. If he could overpower the guard, he’d be one step closer to getting Megan back. Hopefully, the guard would have a key on him. It all depended on him getting through that door. He had to get it open, that was the catalyst: that damn door.
Suddenly, as though triggered by his thought, the door opened; things actually seemed to be going Ollie’s way for once. He tried not to get his hopes up; it seemed too good to be true, and that usually signified a trap, especially where Rexl was concerned.
“Good morning, Brother.”
There he was, standing in the doorway, standing once again between Ollie and freedom, taking his usual position.
“I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”
“But you were expecting me.”
“Naturally. I knew you’d come back for Megan sooner or later, it’s not in your nature to abandon her.”
“And I suppose you had some plan in mind for me?”
Rexl approached, turning to the guard. “You may leave,” he said.
“Right,” the guard responded, leaving the cell, the door closing behind him.
“How are you feeling?” Rexl asked. It almost seemed as though he were making small talk.
“Fine, all things considered. Your drug seems to be wearing off.”
“Good, then you should feel this.” Rexl lunged forward, landing a jab in Ollie’s gut. The younger brother doubled over from the punch, not expecting it.
Rexl followed up with a blow to the face, knocking Ollie backward. He landed on his feet, with his back against the wall.
“Perhaps that will knock some sense into you.”
Ollie hesitated, dazed. He took a moment to compose himself, to get his head straight. “Was that a pun?” he asked, not sure what else to say.
“What were you thinking, Oliver?”
“That’s a serious question. I want to know.”
“You mean about Rose?”
“Of course I do. How long had you been planning that little jailbreak?”
“I’d like to say It was in the works from the beginning, but I lost my way; I wasn’t sure it was even possible. In truth, it was Megan who convinced me to keep going with the plan.”
“You did have a plan, then.”
“Well, part of one.”
“And what is your plan now?”
“Well, I thought I could overpower the guard and escape.”
“And then try to find Megan, no doubt. You seem quite taken with her, don’t you?”
Ollie shot his brother a glare, remembering the sting of Kayla’s accusations, her taunts.
“She’s like a daughter to me, since you….”
“Since I took yours away.”
“A sound plan, considering. It’s fortunate that I got here in time to stop it.”
“That’s a matter of perspective.”
“It is also fortunate that I locked that guard in here with you. He had no key on him, so rest assured; even if you had managed to overpower him, you truly had no chance of escape.”
That was most likely why the guard had been unarmed. “You hold all the cards once again.”
Ollie let loose a dark laugh. Why should he expect any different?
“You still haven’t answered my question, Oliver.”
“And what question might that be?”
“What exactly were you thinking?”
“At which point?”
“You have taken Rose from me, disrupted our entire operation here. Why? You’re the one who brought her to me in the first place.”
“Don’t you understand? That’s why I did it! I was simply trying to make amends; to her, and to her mother. For God’s sake, Rexl, she’s your daughter! How could you put her through all this? You had her abandoned, abducted, tortured.”
“Because she’s your daughter, right? You took her from her mother. Are you truly that petty? She had a family, a life, a future. You took it away from her. You imprisoned her.”
“Is that why you did it, did you give her back to that woman?”
“She’s safe, with her mother.”
“Hm… do you truly believe that she’s safe?”
“Of course I do. She’s better off with her mother than she was here.”
Was Rexl… laughing? “You fool! That woman, the girl’s mother is a feeble, weak woman. Do you really think she has the capacity to protect her daughter? Do you really think she can keep the girl safe? Do you really think she will? She didn’t do it before.”
“You didn’t give her much of a choice, did you?”
“There’s always a choice. She made hers.”
“If Rose’s mother hadn’t given her up, you’d have just taken her anyway, like you did Maybelle.”
“Perhaps, but her mother didn’t know that. Do you really think she’d considered it? No, she put her new family ahead of her daughter. Her priorities were clear. She came to meet me, we made a deal, and she agreed to it.”
“You blackmailed her, admit it.”
“Very well, Oliver, if it makes you happy. I blackmailed her. I threatened to release certain sensitive information that, if made public, would have made life difficult, for her, and for her husband. Have you met him?”
“Her husband? Yes, I met him. He seemed a little distant.”
“Hm… the information was about him, about his past. Effectively, I posed a choice to the mother: her husband, or her daughter; whom did she wish to protect? She chose her husband.”
“Perhaps she thought she was protecting them both, if your information was going to make life harder.”
“Perhaps she did. You seem to have done your research, Ollie, but how much do you really know?”
“Not everything, evidently.” Ollie remembered Kayla taunting him; she seemed to know something that he didn’t. “Kayla said you’d fill me in, that you’d want to tell me the story yourself.”
“You say that Rose is better off with her mother… what if I were to tell you that she wasn’t? How well do you know her husband, really?”
“I thought not… that’s the only reason why you’d do something so stupid.”
“That stepfather of hers; you really should have looked into him. I’m disappointed in you, Oliver. Didn’t it occur to you to run a background check?”
Ollie had to admit, it hadn’t. Even if he’d wanted to… “I don’t have the same resources at my disposal as you.”
“You could have asked his wife, though I doubt she’d have told you the truth.”
“The topic didn’t really come up.” Perhaps Ollie should have enquired about him; the woman had seemed somewhat aloof, about most things.
“I’m sure it’s a great deal of embarrassment for her. You see, her husband has a history.”
“What kind of history?”
“The kind that she wouldn’t want the neighbours to know about.”
“And that presents a danger to Rose?”
A history, something from his past. Had he run up a debt, or was he in possession of some volatile information? Had he crossed the wrong people, could somebody be after him? Perhaps he’d been on the run, hiding out. That might explain the woman’s behaviour, why she’d been so aloof, careful. That would be a difficult position to be in. Ollie asked his brother. “Is it something from his past, are there people after him? Could he be attracting danger?” If so, Rexl’s promise to leak his underhanded information was a very real threat, almost as if he’d threatened to harm them himself, just like with Ollie’s family. This was no different, he shouldn’t have been surprised.
“That man won’t attract any danger… he is the danger.”
Ollie froze. What did Rexl mean by that?
Had Ollie completely misread the situation?
He is the danger. He has a history.
Ollie opened his mouth to speak, and found it had gone dry. He swallowed, and forced himself to ask the question, a question to which he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the answer. “He’s not… violent, is he?”
“Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense. Not in the way that leaves a mark, the kind that prying neighbours might notice… assuming they weren’t prepared to turn a blind eye.”
“No… you can’t mean…”
Rexl stared at him, looking down into his eyes, his expression hard and cold, matching his words. Ollie couldn’t help but notice a resemblance between Rexl and Rose, although Rose had never looked upon him, spoken to him with such vehemence; not even when she’d been under Kayla’s sway. Did Rexl actually care something for his daughter after all?
When his brother spoke, Ollie felt a chill run down his spine. Although Rexl tried to cover it, Ollie could see through his veneer of smug tranquillity. It was honestly shocking. Ollie had never seen him this angry before; the elder Poer brother was usually so composed. “Are you beginning to realise, Ollie, to what you’ve exposed my daughter? In whose care you’ve left her? Do you now realise what you’ve done?”
Ollie put aside his shock at Rexl’s disposition, and instead tried to focus on his words. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It couldn’t be true, but… what did Rexl have to gain by lying? “No…” Ollie’s voice shook. “it can’t be. Rose’s mother wouldn’t let him touch her… would she?”
“As I said, her mother didn’t protect her before; why would she now?”
It couldn’t be, there had to be some mistake. Why would her mother agree to take Rose back to a house like that, where she’d be in danger? Why wouldn’t she have said something? She had the opportunity; she could have warned him. If only she’d told him, if only she’d said… something.
This was too much.
“This is the end you’ve wrought, the consequences of your actions, and Rose may be the one who pays the price for them. The one you sought to help will suffer because of your actions, because of what you did. Knowing what you know now, can you still say that she’s better off?”
“I…” Ollie swallowed; he didn’t know what to say. “I still don’t know anything.”
“Your optimism is endearing.” Ollie couldn’t tell whether his brother’s words had been intended as critical, or sarcastic. “I’ll leave you for a while to ponder this, to stew in it.” Rexl crossed the room, opening the door and stepping through it. He turned back to face Ollie through the doorway. “Consider this a time-out. Think about what you’ve done.”
Was that supposed to be some kind of joke? Ollie didn’t understand his brother, and he never would. He didn’t know how to respond, but he wouldn’t get the chance to reply regardless. The door closed, coming between them, sealing Ollie inside, alone.
He wondered what Megan’s take on this would be.
It was almost funny, that a trained psychiatrist would seek the guidance of a child, even one wise far beyond her years like Megan. In truth, he just wanted to see her, to hold her, to talk to her. Most of all, he wanted her to know that he was here.
He wanted to know that she was alright, that she was safe. He missed her. He was alone, all alone.
Now, he had nothing.
Plan B had failed.
Ollie had failed.