Oriana felt her pulse kick up a notch. Her bedroom was dark; she couldn't risk the light. Her hands tightened around the baseball bat, her grip getting sweaty. If they came, then she was ready. The corner she was in had been her home for the past few nights. Sleep happened during the day when she could steal it. Her breathing was getting ragged. Focusing, Oriana calmed her body even though she could still feel the butterflies in her stomach. Her eyes were fixed on the window, the slightest twitch of the curtains causing her to tense.
You can't keep this up for much longer. You're going to crash.
No, she couldn't. Not until sunrise. However, it would be easier to see coming if she could see the sky and not just the bright red light of her digital clock. Which she really should unplug as it gave off far too much light. However, that would put her by her bed in the middle of the room, leaving her back vulnerable. No. Not tonight then. Just have to wait for the alarm to go off - nothing else she could do. Except maybe pray they wouldn't come tonight.
Dawn took what seemed like forever to come. Oriana caught herself nodding off a couple of times, almost ready to fall over, but the slow lowering of her limbs made the adrenaline pump through her and wake her up once more.
The alarm sounded at precisely 6 AM. Relieved, she lowered the bat to her side and went to silence it. The rest of the house would be up before her. Safety in numbers. Bat still in hand, she went to the window. Gently she lifted one edge of the curtain with a shaking hand and scanned what she could. The morning light was beginning to clearly show the area, but it was still far too misty for her liking. She was about to lower the curtain when something caught her eye. Freezing like a deer in headlights, Oriana stared. Movement in the trees, a glint off of something - quickly covered.
They were watching.
The curtain fell from her hand and moved with her gasps of air. Fear tinged her thoughts. She had no idea how long she stood there in a daze and only came out of it to a knock on her door. Whirling, she readied the bat even though her brain scoffed at the absurdity. Like the watchers would knock. Unsurprisingly it was her mother's voice that came through the door.
"You need to get up, sleepyhead. If you don't, you'll be late." Oriana lowered the baseball bat and closed her eyes, swallowing. Forcing a smile to her lips so that her voice would hopefully match, she answered.
"Right! Thanks, mom. Be right out." In her mind's eye she could see her mother nod, satisfied, before hearing her walk away. Sighing, she opened her eyes, tossed the bat onto the bed and went about getting ready for the day. It was going to be another long one.
She tried to keep her feet light on the stairs and enjoy the smells wafting up from the kitchen. It smelled of syrup and warm pancakes. Curious. Oriana's parents were usually off to work before she was out to her classes; they never took the time to make breakfast on a weekday. On weekends they made them together, rare family time in their busy lives. Instead of smiling, like she would have done a week ago, she peeked quietly around the corner of the stairwell and into the kitchen.
Both of her parents were sitting at the table. Her mother, chronically thin and somewhat stern, sat there with her plump father, who was sighing and rubbing his eyes. Something worried him. They both loved her and each other without reserve, despite how different they could be. Oriana got her loose curls from her mother and her dark honey brown hair and eyes from her father. Her pale skin was all her mother though - her father had darker skin. They talked in soft murmurs to each other, and Oriana couldn't make out what they were saying. Well, she wasn't going to find out what was going on from here. She moved away from the stairwell and towards the kitchen. It didn't take very long for her parents to notice her, and the hallway was short so she didn't have far to go. Hovering in the doorway, she attempted to appear normal.
"What's going on? Breakfast on a weekday?" Her voice shook slightly as she spoke. She had forgotten to smile while talking. Her father gave her a soft smile, meant to be comforting, and patted the chair next to him at the table. Her eyes darted between her parents as she slowly entered the room and sat down. Her father put a hand on her shoulder, and she looked to him. He seemed so concerned, and his eyes were red and puffy. He'd been crying. She looked to her mom, whose fingers were twitching as if she wanted a cigarette. A habit she'd given up two years ago and never looked back. Whatever was going on, it was significant. "Guys? Let me in on what's happened?"
"Well, we were hoping you could tell us." Her mother was the one to speak up. So...her behaviour had been noticed after all. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she began to speak. No one interrupted her. They just let the words flow.
She told them how it started - the feeling of being watched, seeing the same faces everywhere, even when it made no sense. Then she told them how it continued - the eyes at night in the yard, the noises from the woods, the shadows she saw out of the corner of her eyes. It took her less time to tell it than she thought it would, and afterwards, she felt lighter. Only when she finished speaking, and there was silence did she open her eyes. Her mother was even paler than usual, and her father was silently crying. Her father swallowed and spoke first.
"We'll get you new locks - we'll get the house new locks. We'll inform the police." Her mother grabbed his hand and squeezed.
"Why don't you go do that, dear? I'll get the pancakes served." They all understood her need to do something normal, and her father left to go to his study. It was there he made all his important phone calls. When he was gone, Oriana's mother stood up and sighed. With her back to her daughter, she spoke as she plated the food. "It will help him. Trying to do something for you."
Oriana knew why she said that. If it was something normal and the police could catch them, her father would feel like he protected his little girl. What her mother didn't voice, but Oriana heard was the other half. If it was...them...then the police might be able to stop it, might not. Others, to give them the name humans had coined, were hard to stop when they set their sights on something. The name, despite its lack of originality, was perfect. For it merely meant those who were not human and not animals. She found herself shaking.
"Mom...what if..." A plate landed loudly in front of her.
"Don't what if. Because nothing is going to happen." A pretty lie, but one Oriana so desperately needed to believe. She ate her pancakes.
Her studio art class was just what she needed that day. The feel of the clay beneath her hands, the chatter of her classmates and the soft footfalls of her professor as they walked around the room. People often said she had natural talent, but she had loved clay and clay-like substances since she was small. The movements she did were all practised, and the result was as much a testament to her learning as it was to her talent. Her fingers seemed to glide across the clay while leaving behind precisely what she wanted.
Always people. She could sculpt pretty much anything she wanted to, but people were her passion. The differences in them, the subtle changes one could make to make someone entirely different. It was, to Oriana, like she was bringing the vision of the clay to life. She made changes to her plan as needed when the clay didn't like it, and nothing could soothe her more than the process of bringing it to life.
The three-hour class went by fast for her. Too fast. Now here she was, back in reality, on her way to the bus that would take her close to home. She used to listen to music on the walk but couldn't right now. Her phone stayed in her hand, though, ready to dial for emergency aid. The quickest way home was through the park. She considered it before entering. There weren't that many people there, but one could see the entire thing from the road. Maybe the space would do her mind some good.
As she walked, she clutched the strap of her bag and her phone. Still, despite her attempts at hyper-awareness, she struggled. By now, Oriana was so sleep-deprived and keyed up that she almost missed it. The moment the jogger turned to follow her, she started to dial. But she hadn't seen the mother with her child as a threat. As they walked past, her phone was snatched from her hand by the woman.
"Hey-" Her panicked voice called out for only a second before the jogger caught up and grabbed her. The mother and child were gone, and Oriana didn't care anymore. Her breath came in gasps as she bit down on the hand holding her mouth. It wasn't the best bite since he had a hold of her jaw, but it was enough. The man holding her cursed and let go. She elbowed him and kicked, falling to the ground with his grunt. Her head hit the paved pathway as she fell, dazing her.
Gulping in air, she used her arms underneath her to push herself upwards. Her head hated it and protested, but she kept going, grimacing against the pain. She cried out as her hair was grabbed from behind, and she was pulled up by it. Instinctively her hands went to try and pry loose the man's grip.
Oriana breathed in and released it on a scream. A car's tires squealed as it stopped beside her and her assailant. The brief hope that they were there to help was gone fast as the man picked her up, slung her over his shoulder and went towards it. Tears began to fall, along with her bag whose contents spewed across the walkway. She screamed again, kicked, scratched and wailed but it wasn't enough. Too quickly, she was being dropped unceremoniously into the trunk of the car and the lid closed on her. Pitch black surrounded her. Oriana stopped screaming. She didn't know how much air she had in this thing, and she didn't want to waste it. Instead, she focused her efforts on the lid. First, she scratched it until the tips of her fingers bled, trying to find an inside latch. When that failed, she began pounding on the sides. She could feel the wheels moving underneath her, and as she felt herself get farther and farther away, she began to sob. Still, she didn't give up.
That was until she started hearing a hiss. Her wide eyes darted around, but she couldn't see anything. Her hands grasped at nothing as a gas filled the trunk. She was sleepy, so very weary. As she felt herself drifting away, she wondered if this was how she died. Alone, scared and in the trunk of a car.
A grunt. That was the first thing Oriana became aware of. Then it was the pain. Crying out, she struggled to breathe through it. The wave went through her entire body, and she shook when it left. Her eyes felt welded shut, but instead of the dried tears she expected to feel, it was more like her body didn't want to listen to her. Oriana struggled against the lethargy in her limbs and managed to open her protesting eyes. She couldn't move anything else, but this was progress.
Not that it helped her in any way. All around her was inky darkness. If she squinted and focused, she could make out rough shapes - or thought she could anyway. If there were any light source, she would either have to turn around or stand up to see it. So that was what she focused on next. She had to get up.
Wait...why does that sound so familiar?
Had she needed to get up before this? It danced just outside of her reach before the hint of something vanished. As much as she wanted to, there was a sense of urgency that stopped her from chasing the stray thought. Something inside her was pushing her to get up, to get out. She got her hands moving through the dirt on the ground and was almost lifting them behind her when another wave of pain hit her. She bit down on a scream, biting her lip so hard she would have thought that there would have been blood. This time the pain didn't leave and wave after wave racked through her body. Oriana felt the wetness from tears fall down her face, but she couldn't taste the salt in them. Maybe something was wrong with her mouth. With all of her.
Yes...get up. She had to get up. Fighting the cramping in her muscles, she pushed. It felt like she was pushing against her own body, the weight of the ceiling above her crushing down on her. Hands went behind her; she was sitting against something. Good, leverage. Gasping to draw in enough air, she got herself in position and readied herself. She could do this. All she had to do was stand. Using her hands as support, she could push herself up and forward. Sweat covered her body already as she sat there. Had it not been for the lingering sense of fear, she would never have attempted it.
But she did.
Oriana let out a scream of pain and determination as she made the move. It wasn't smooth, it wasn't pretty, and it was beyond painful. It felt like she was being split apart, cell by cell. Yet it was successful. The pain ebbed to a dull aching everywhere as she stood. The tearing feeling was gone. She gave herself a moment, breathing heavily from exertion, but didn't wait long. Shakily she used the edge of what she had been resting on to support her as she turned and looked around.
Still just darkness. She wanted to start to cry again and almost gave in to the urge when she saw it. A slight glow on a rock.
"Yes." Her throat and mouth were like a desert, and the word came out more croak than anything else, but it was enough. The light was enough. The glow was on a wet rock, and it was then that she began to notice the sounds and smells around her. Stale water, the dripping of a liquid and the slightly slimy rock under her hands. She was somewhere moist, and she assumed she was in a cave or something similar from the rock. She let out a sob but then told herself to toughen up. Caves had exits. All she had to do was find it.
Rolling a bit, she managed to turn around, trying to find the source of the glow. She looked straight ahead of her and leaning over...she looked down. If she squinted, she could sort of make out the shape. It was perfectly round, regular dips and grooves, and had something on top of it. Touching it tentatively, she determined it was wood. It took her a bit, but she finally concluded that it was some sort of well. Surprisingly she snorted at herself.
Way to find out something entirely unimportant there, Oriana.
She lifted her head once more, the aching in her body becoming an unwelcome companion, but one she was getting adjusted to. Her eyes scanned the area around her for the light source. She was scared to blink in case she missed it, but that only made her blink more. A strange lump there, another one there...and there! The light source.
It was a small strip of warm, orange-red glow, but it was there. And not far, she hoped. Having no real reference as to the size of the room, she really couldn't say. But for her sanity, it was close. It had to be. Stumbling on her own feet, she somehow made her way around the well to the other side. But here was a problem. Oriana would have to make it from here to the light without any more support. She shivered. This situation just kept getting harder and harder.
Crawl. Don't walk, crawl.
Closing her eyes, she breathed in and out, evening the ragged puffs of breath coming out of her into something you could properly call breathing. Slowly she lowered herself to her knees and then down onto her hands. She could do this. She could crawl out of here. Starting to move was the hardest part. After that, she fell into a sort of rhythm. Up over the bumps, down onto the ground.
At first, she didn't think too hard about what she was passing over. But soon, the ground became all bumps and ones that shifted at that. Which made her pay more attention. It was soft, slightly warm and moved in and out. Breathing. That's what the bumps were doing.
Oriana jolted back onto her behind, away from the spot she had been feeling, only to land on one behind her. She forced herself to breathe out her nose, trying to calm the panicked puffs. With shaking hands, she reached forward once more and shoved. The thing started to move, so she pushed again, harder this time. And screamed.
Bodies. These were people. The one she had turned over was that of a young woman, her face peaceful but frozen in sleep. Oriana slapped her hand over her mouth as she wanted to scream again. Something was telling her to shut up. After looking around, she figured she was almost to the light. It was a lot larger than before, things were a lot brighter, and now that she was looking, she could see that the bodies were in a ring around the well. She was coming to the end of them. Well, that was something, at least. She started forward once more, then heard it.
A groan. But not just a typical groan; it was loud and guttural and behind her. She was not alone here. She gave up on being slow and quiet and just went. She fell multiple times, and even though the groan didn't repeat right away, she couldn't slow herself down. All that went through her mind was out.
Out. Out. Out!
Dirt mixed with her sweat and her tears, and some even went in her mouth. Every time she fell, she heaved herself back up. Every time she wanted to give up, she thought she heard the groan. But finally...finally she made it. Scratching at the surface, she found it was wood. A door. A small success, but also a big one. Oriana forced herself to stand and ran her hands frantically over the door. Eventually, she found the small indented handle and grabbed hold.
At first, it didn't want to move. She rattled it and pushed it, then pulled it. Slowly, ever so painfully slow, it opened. She didn't wait for it to be fully open. Cringing at the noise it was making against the stone, and from the rusted hinges, she shoved her way through a gap barely big enough. Falling once she was on the other side, the door slammed shut behind her. There she lay, heaving from the effort to breathe.
Free. But not free enough.