I’m curled up on the cold, cement floor of a small, windowless room in the basement. After Blue left, Shabby pulled me inside, his grip even tighter than Blue’s, and shut the door. I tried to memorize the stars. It felt like the last time I’d see the sky. He didn’t talk to me at all, he just shoved me in this little room and left. I didn’t get any food and my stomach is growling.
I have nightmares when I finally fall into the darkness that has been tugging on me, tearing me to shreds.
Three days have passed, and I’ve started to fall into a routine. Twice a day, I’m given bowls of cold oatmeal that slide down my throat like an eel. It’s always slipped in through a panel on the door. The food is disgusting, but I still eat it. Every other time I’m given food, I make a nick on my sword with a rusty nail I found to keep track of the days that have passed. There’s a small bathroom attached to this room where I bathe and get my water. My sword is always clutched tightly in my hand.
No one has come to rescue me. I burst into tears quite often. Obviously, I’m upset I’m still here, but I’m more upset that I didn’t tell Mother and Father that I love them before they left. I can’t help but think that was goodbye forever and I did it wrong.
Once, a long time ago, Mother told me, “Don’t ever get into a stranger’s car.” I forgot and I’m cursing myself.
It’s my birthday today. I’m finally actually six. My sword tells me three months have passed. I cannot remember the color of Father’s eyes or the smell of Mother’s hair, but my tears have dried up. There’s nothing left. I’m having trouble sleeping. Whatever brief moments of rest I do manage to capture are plagued by dreams of dark shapes that try to steal me away and rip me apart as Mother and Father watch. There are tears, but nothing can be done.
I’ve been staring at the wall for a few minutes, or possibly a couple hours, when I hear the door open. The sound claws at my ears until they bleed scarlet and I drown in my moon-warmed blood.
I don’t turn around, so Shabby walks across the room until he’s in front of the wall. I haven’t seen another human in around 94 days. Shabby doesn’t quite fit his name anymore. He’s in much better hygiene. He’s taken a shower and cut his hair and shaved and his teeth are still white and straight. He’s wearing new clothing.
He smiles at me in a way that tells me I’ve just seen evil’s face. It’s so much worse than poisoned candy. He’s hiding something behind his back and won’t let me see it. I don’t think I want to.
“I’ve drained all the ransom money I could from your dear parents, so you’re of no use to me anymore,” he sneers. He sees a treasure to take when he looks at me. I shiver.
He steps forward and his smile is scary and I don’t know what he’s got behind his back and I’m scared. I scream and swing my sword.
My left-hand shudders as the sword hits his head and he stumbles, tripping over a crate, and he falls and groans. What was in his hand has fallen and it’s a gun.
I freeze, but I have to act now, before he can hurt me. I run forward, fast enough that you cannot see anything of me but my essence, and I grab the keys to my dungeon from a hook on Shabby’s pocket. He lunges at me, but he’s disoriented and I’m fast and I skitter out of his way, but I stumble and fall to the cold stone floor. I scramble up and hurry to the thick door trapping me here, away from the moon, and shove the key into the hole and dart outside and slam the door shut behind me, locking Shabby inside. I can feel the vibrations through the door as he bangs on it.
I run up the stairs to the main floor and I make it as far as the porch when my knees give up and the tears come. They don’t stop until water fills my lungs and steals all my air, but Mother isn’t here and Shabby’s in the basement and I have to get far away. I clutch my sword and I dry my tears on my dirty sleeve and I march on.
The house isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s in a tiny neighborhood and there are street lights and other signs of life. Really, the house looks like every other house here, even though it’s actually a prison.
I’ve been walking for awhile when I see another person at a street corner, and I quicken my pace despite my dying muscles. As I approach the man on the corner, I slow down. Can I trust him? But then I see he’s wearing a uniform and he has a sirencar next to him. He’s an officer. Mother says that I can trust officers above all other adults. They don’t count as strangers. I’m still wary. I’ve learned my lesson.
I tap his elbow and he glances down at me and stares.
“I’ve just run away from a dungeon,” I tell him, pointing at the direction from which I’ve come. “There’s a man who stole me and he tried to hurt me with a gun.”
He blinks three more times then says in an awed voice, “You’re Sam Warner. Everyone thought you were dead.” But I am clearly alive.
The officer said something into his walkie-talkie and more officers came. They asked me to tell them what the house and Shabby and Blue looked like. Now, I’m in the backseat of a sirencar with a dark-haired officer lady. She says she’s going to bring me to my parents.
Mother, Father, and I sit by the fireplace and we watch the snowflakes drift outside like puffy miniature clouds. I sip my hot chocolate, burning my tongue. I love it anyway.