Torn away from everyday life and held prisoner in a tiny cabin, Kelli Foster must harden herself to survive torture and isolation. When Carla is introduced to Kelli’s small world, the experiments they are forced to endure take a dark turn. Kelli is forced to choose: Save her own life, or free her new friend? Sacrifice her dreams or sacrifice her love?
Following a failed escape attempt, Kelli, Carla, and Kelli’s lover Samarta work together to unravel the mystery behind the shadowy group that has kidnapped them all. Their path to freedom lies through mind-bending discoveries and globe-trotting adventures, culminating in a battle between godlike beings that hold Kelli’s fate in their hands.
Here I am, alone again, an alien in an empty motel room somewhere in Texas, listening for footsteps outside the door. Someone on the outside might think I waited for an eager lover who’d taken a few hours away from his wife, or even my own people, beamed down from the mother-ship. Good guesses both, but you’d be wrong. Instead, I’m waiting for death. Maybe worse than death; I admit my imagination escapes me a little with these things.
I do hear footfalls, though, and every time I hear them, I’m almost positive that the Organization has found me and is ready to take what they think is theirs. Some nights I wonder if they’re right. Maybe I should be their property. Maybe I overstepped my limits by escaping them and coming to this weird world that seems so familiar and yet so damned alien at the same time.
The central question of my existence, or anyone’s existence if they really think about it – if someone creates you, do they own you? Does that mean they can destroy you, too, like the parent who brings you into this world and can take you out again? It sounds absurd but don’t be so sure about your own answer if you’ve never found out that your entire existence is a lie.
Okay, they didn’t create me. Not really. They only shaped me, and God knows what they’d do if they got their hands on me again. Maybe killing me would be too nice. They have worse things to do to a person.
On the other hand, I suppose freedom in itself is a sweet and noble goal, but can you call holing yourself up in a motel room and jumping at every sound freedom? Sometimes I wonder if I’ve replaced one prison with another, though this prison is a lot safer and comfier than the one where I had to ingest mass quantities of drugs on a daily basis.
I feel like I’m losing my mind an inch at a time. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought life on the run would be easy, and Sam says things will be getting better soon, but come on. Things have to change; I just don’t know how they could or will. Foresight has never been my thing.
I think that’s where this journal comes in. Am I a writer? Not sure. My family tree includes a pretty famous writer, or at least a reasonable facsimile of one, and if my creator could do that, what else could she do? My memory tells me that the last journal I kept ended about the time I turned 13 and discovered boys, but I can’t trust that period of my life.
It doesn’t matter. In the end, like most folks who put pen to paper, I have a story to tell. A weird, poisonous story that hangs on me, dragging me down any time I start to feel I might be a normal human being, but no story is perfect, right? It’s time to get rid of it. Maybe it’ll be like passing a kidney stone: excruciating but necessary.
Nothing can be normal until I get this stone out of my system.
The story starts one night at a little bar in Boston. It also starts with a guy named Bloch. Big slab of a man and a real sweetheart, at least until he acknowledges your existence. My memories happen to solidify on that night, but I still haven’t figured out how much of it is fact and how much fiction. Does it matter? Everyone’s memory sucks in some way. At least I have a coherent narrative.
Memory tells me that I had been a bartender and a performer – sing on the weekend, sling beer during the week. Not glamorous, but there are a lot worse ways to make a living. I had the “good” fortune of living in a hellhole just down the block from the bar. Its proximity to the bar was a blessing and a curse. I didn’t own a car, so walking wasn’t such a big deal, but I also got off in the wee hours of the morning, so I had to cut through a not-so-great neighborhood all on my lonesome.
It might have been a Wednesday. Or maybe a Tuesday? I don’t know if the fact that I can’t remember is a sad statement on the human condition or a glitch in my upbringing. Maybe both. The important thing is that I was there, on the street, and more than a little tired. Back-to-back shifts, some mean drunks; nothing unusual but still, worn out. Unfortunately, that meant I had dropped my guard. A girl can only handle so much in one night.
This voice from just up the sidewalk broke into whatever thoughts rattled around in my head.
“Hey, excuse me. Can you help me?” he said.
I paused, mid-stride. I had gotten my share of catcalls on that street, even at that hour, and while you never get comfortable with it, you can at least stomach it after a while. Asking for help, though? In this neighborhood? That seemed dangerous.
It didn’t help that he was a big guy – most people would think he packed a layer of fat under that black leather jacket, but that would have been a mistake. I had dealt with enough bouncers in my time to tell he was a wall of solid muscle. I wondered how I couldn’t have noticed the behemoth standing there.
Weren’t paying attention, as usual, I thought.
“What can I do for you?” I said, careful to keep my distance.
He motioned toward his car, a red, compact thing parked just off the sidewalk. He – or someone – had popped the hood open. “I’m having trouble getting my car going.”
“I don’t know anything about cars.” Pretty straightforward, right?
He cocked his head. “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Did he? He could have been a patron at some point. “Maybe. I don’t recognize you.”
He nodded and wagged his finger at me. “Sure I do. From Sully’s. You sing, right?”
I might have blushed. I did get a little rush of adrenaline with the recognition, and it might not have been the best thing for me. But still, a fan, maybe? Who could resist? “Yeah. That’s me.” I got a little closer to him without even realizing it.
“Right. Love your stuff. Anyway, I don’t need you to fix it. I forgot my phone, I was wondering if you’d let me use yours.”
Anything for a fan. I reached into my purse, pushing one of my annoying curls out of my face with my other hand. Did I mention that my hair is the bane of my existence? I should. “Sure. You know how to use one of these?”
He took my iPhone. “Yeah. Hey, thanks. Kelli, right?”
I nodded and glanced around the sidewalk and street. I didn’t know, there might have been other fans there, or people who saw that I might be a famous person. They needed to see this.
Not my smartest move. I heard him move an instant before I had time to turn my head, by which point he’d already sunk the needle into my neck. You’d say that’s bad, and you’d be right. Pain shot up to my head and down my shoulders, followed by a rush of warmth and the taste of licorice in my mouth.
Panic washed over me. “Hey, you…” I managed to get out. Nothing else. Everything went dark.
My body felt strange. Disconnected, as if gravity had lost its grip. I opened my eyes slowly, my fuzzy mind trying to piece together what had happened. I remembered Bloch, and the jab of the needle…
My eyes completely opened at this last, my mind struggling to connect his action with my current situation.
I understood in a moment, though I didn’t – couldn’t – fully comprehend the situation: I floated, head up, in water, my feet bound to unseen contraptions anchored below me.
Oh my God oh my God, I thought. Breathe.
My mind didn’t register that breath already pushed through my lungs, so I panicked, kicking and hitting something hard that I couldn’t quite see, out past the water, or maybe inside the water. I couldn’t tell.
The only clear fact? I wouldn’t be moving anytime soon. Panic increasing by the moment, I reached for my face and found a rubber mask strapped across my nose and mouth.
You’re breathing. It’s normal air. Calm down.
A blob that looked something like a human face appeared at the edge of the water, and my sluggish brain put it together at last: I floated in a giant test tube. It set me off again. I tried to scream at the blob of a person, pounding at what I now recognized as glass.
The blob took a step back and made a motion that I couldn’t quite interpret.
Warmth spread from my right wrist down over my body, followed by licorice, and I went out again.
I snapped awake in a bed, an overhead light shining into my face. Recoiling from the photons stabbing my eyes to death, I tried to cover my face, but my arms – along with my legs – had been restrained, cuffed into place on either side of the bed.
If you like the idea of restraints, you could get used to it. Maybe even enjoy it.
I never got used to it.
A cultured, feminine English voice spoke from somewhere outside the light. “She’s awake.”
Another woman spoke, from the other side of the room. “Give her some room to breathe.” Her voice sounded like she’d gargled with whiskey for a few years.
I heard footsteps as two – maybe three – people stepped away from me.
“Cover my eyes,” I said.
The Englishwoman snapped her fingers. “Please. Get the lights.”
A guy with a thick Jersey accent answered her. A man of many words. “Right.” A click, and the lights went out.
I silently thanked a few deities, trying to push my fear out of my mind. Not very successful at that last one.“Where am I? Who are you?”
A hand touched my arm, and I jerked against the restraints. “Don’t touch me, don’t you touch me.”
“Stay where you are,” New York said to someone that I couldn’t see.
“Please, do calm down.” Englishwoman again. My eyes had recovered somewhat from their rude assault, at least enough to make out the woman’s outline in the dark. It wouldn’t be fair to call her fat. Solid? Yeah, that’s a good word for it. She had pulled her hair up into a severe bun, the kind you go for when you want maximum evil effect.
I jerked my head from side to side, trying to pick out details of the room through the dark. I thought I saw a closet somewhere off to my right. Soft yellow light pouring through the cracks, of what must have been a door just to its left. It took me another second to figure out the weird dark spots in the light came about because of a big shadow standing in front of the door.
I tasted fear. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“Shh,” the Englishwoman said.
I struggled with the restraints again. “Answer me.”
Whiskey woman spoke again. “She can’t calm down; can’t you see what you’re doing to her?”
“Be quiet,” New York said.
“Fuck you, Zito. Let her loose.”
A slapping sound, and the other woman went quiet. I tried to crane my neck in the direction of her voice, and I could make out her body lying prone on the bed, a short, puffy-haired guy standing over her. Zito, I presume.
“Told you to shut up,” he said.
The fear in my throat blossomed into full-on panic. I kicked and pulled, trying to break free of the restraints.
Footsteps rushed toward my bed and a single calloused hand touched my throat. “Stop. Do it again and I’ll hurt you worse than I hurt her,” Zito said.
I handled the situation with all the dignity that I could muster after my miserable night. “Please don’t hit me. I’ll do anything you want.”
Englishwoman answered me. “Of course you will, dear. We’re counting on it.”
“Who are you?”
I still couldn’t see her face, but her features crinkled, so I imagine she tried to show some emotion, though not very well. I tried to calculate her age based on the wrinkles. Mid-30s? Mid-40s? From any one second to another it changed.
“You may call me Ms. Maple. At your service.”
“Why did you take me?”
“You’re a very special one. Very special indeed,” she said.
Damn my dysfunctional brain. For half a second I got a little thrill; me, special. Hadn’t I always wanted something like that? I corrected that thought pretty quickly, though. Okay, fear corrected it. Same thing. “What do you mean?”
She patted my arm. “We brought you here to help us.”
I cringed, but the thought of Zito’s threat brought me up short. I didn’t dare pull away. “With what?”
“We done here? Senior’s paying Barren overtime for this. We need to make sure she’s the right one.” Zito said.
Maple turned her head. “I am quite aware of the situation. Please do remember your place.”
“Uh. Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”
That’s when a new voice spoke. Well, not quite new to me. I sure as hell recognized it: my friend from the street, the guy with the red car and the syringe. “Yes?”
He moved, and I realized that he had been the shadow by the door. Who would have guessed? I also realized that the man scared me shitless; that should have been a little easier to guess.
Another surprise, though: I shrieked a little without even meaning to.
A hand flashed out and slapped my face. “I told you to calm down, and I meant it,” Maple said.
Some Englishwoman. I went silent.
Maple spoke. “Take her to Room 3, please.”
“Absolutely,” Bloch said, and came close. I didn’t need to see him. I could feel him in my nerve endings, in the way that my body tensed against my bindings.
He leaned down over me. “Listen, that whole thing in Boston wasn’t personal, okay? Just business.”
“Yeah. Business,” I said. I worried. Did that sound sarcastic? It might have. I winced, waiting for another slap.
Bloch nodded. “I get it. It’s not business to you. But what’s done is done. I’m going to set you loose, and we’re taking you out of here, okay?”
“I told you to move her, not counsel her,” Maple said.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “You do your job and I do mine.”
“You want her moved or not?” Bloch said.
She said nothing, and he turned to me.
“I’m going to set you loose. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you try anything funny, we’re going to have to. You understand?”
I didn’t figure bravery would get me anywhere. Well, other than abused, and I wasn’t looking to go there anytime soon. I nodded.
“Good. I’m glad we have an agreement.” He reached for me and I steeled myself, screaming at my body not to recoil or pull away this time. My body surprised me by obeying. A key slid into the lock on the restraints, and a few moments later he had freed me from of the cuffs and bindings.
“Can you stand up?” he said.
I didn’t want to say too much. It seemed too risky, so I pushed myself up on the bed. My head swooned, the dark room spinning around me. I put one hand to my head. “I don’t think so.”
He motioned toward Zito, keeping his eyes on me. “We’re going to help you up. You know the drill. Do anything funny…”
“Got it,” I said.
Zito joined him. “He means it.”
My traitorous little body got away from me again, and I snapped, “I said that I got it.”
Again, I waited for the slap that never came; instead, they just reached for me.
Zito brushed one of my tits. I know, classy guy, right? I had to swallow the drive to slap him.
They helped me ease off of the bed. For a second I thought the world might stop spinning, but I should have known better; it returned, and I almost tipped over with its strength. I leaned hard against Bloch and he pushed back, keeping me upright. Hell of a guy.
“Okay, one step at a time. Taking it easy,” he said.
Like I had any other choice. I took a hesitant, shuffling step forward. “What’s Room 3?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Zito said.
That was clear. I took another step.
Bloch spoke up. “Don’t be such a bitch. Of course she’s worried. Girl can’t help it.”
Like I said, hell of a guy. Another step.
Zito laughed. “You getting all soft on me here or what?”
Another step, and we stopped in front of the door. Zito opened it, and the warm orange light of the new room hit my eyes. I struggled to clear my eyes, shaking my head this way, and then that, but I couldn’t comprehend much of what I saw beyond that door.
“I’m doing my job. There’s force, and there’s sadism. You cross the line, my friend,” Bloch said.
“Yeah? Fuck your mother.”
Bloch said nothing, but I felt his body tighten against mine. Something in my brain must have short-circuited in interpreting it, because I could have sworn that he planned to attack me. I took an involuntary step backward, and the room pitched over, my brain swimming.
“Whoa, now,” Zito said. They caught me, trying to get me upright. They overcompensated, though, and I started to go forward, my arms flailing. I thought of some of the drunks that had stumbled out of the bar. I must have been a sight. Bloch caught me this time, and the two dragged me through the door, my feet dangling and scraping on the floor.
I fell sideways, almost hitting the ground before Bloch pulled me up. “Jesus Christ, be careful,” he said.
During all this fun, drunken swaying, I caught a glimpse of the door to our room. Someone had taped a black, plastic 1 to it.
I thought to ask a question, but had already lost control of those functions.
The pair shuffled me across the front room, one step at a time. Given my drugged state, it might not be that surprising that I don’t remember much more than those two manhandling me. I remember a glimpse of a door labeled with a plastic 2, but that could also be my mind playing tricks on me.
I do remember when door 3 swam into my vision, though. Hard to forget that. It looked innocent enough, not so different from door 1, but strange, multicolored lights poured out through the crack between the floor and the bottom of the door.
My heart skipped a beat – I felt it – and I took another one of those hesitant steps backward. It might have been a traitor, but my body had had enough. It sensed what my mind didn’t understand and wanted no part of it. I wish I could have listened to it, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
“Oh, no. Not now,” Zito said, and pushed me forward. “Come on.”
Bloch opened the door on a low-lit room, and they dragged me through. My body kept fighting, though, credit to it. I dragged my heels and tried to pull away from them, desperate to get away from whatever fresh hell I feared they might unleash on me next.
A small, chubby black guy with Harry Potter glasses waited on the other side of the threshold.
“Good evening, Ms. Foster,” he said, and stepped to one side, revealing a large, yellow contraption in the middle of the room. It looked like a dentist’s chair crossed with a torture machine, a big, reclining thing bolted into the wooden floor. Wires and straps hung from its side, along with a steel swing-out tray to accommodate some strange, silvery tools
My stomach turned to liquid. “Come on. Can’t we talk about this? I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Boy, never heard that one before, huh, Barren?” Zito said, and the two dragged me over to the chair.
They tried to push me into the chair, and I resisted, bracing my feet against the base of the thing.
Something heavy hit the back of my head and my vision doubled. “None of that,” Zito said from the end of a far tunnel.
My strength sapped, I let them push me into the seat and started pulling the straps over my limbs. I inhaled the rich leather of the straps, my head spinning with fear. Visions danced through my aching head: the dentist’s drill, bamboo under fingernails, strange devices that picked at and opened up flesh.
Zito’s stinking breath swept over me as he reached over the body, securing the last of the straps against my chest.
I stared at the worn wooden ceiling, hoping that it would be over soon, but I couldn’t even succeed at distracting myself, for someone had hung a big ball of multi-colored lights over the chair, dangling from the ceiling like a tacky Christmas decoration.
Zito’s hand brushed one of my breasts as he withdrew. I tried to pretend that it had been accidental; a voice in my head told me that I should know better.
“What are you doing?” I said.
Zito and Bloch stepped back, and Barren came forward, that serene smile still on his face. He held a syringe in one hand. Its barrel had been filled with a clear liquid – no, not quite clear; particles drifted through it, catching the light from the ball overhead.
Barren lowered the needle toward my arm. “Don’t worry. We’re paving the way to the future.”
I think that’s enough for tonight. As much as I’d like to talk about the torture of that first time in Room 3, it’s late, and I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it. Maybe not ever. Disappointing, but what can you do? There are wounds and then there are wounds. No need to pick at those kinds of things.
More tomorrow, if I’m still here.