Jordan flinched, and the searing pain looped around her wrists reminded her to be still.
Grim gray daylight had snuck in down the window shaft. She must have fallen asleep.
He was going to kill her, and she'd fallen asleep.
She didn't know he was going to kill her -- not really. She didn't know why he was here, why he'd zip-tied her to a water pipe in the basement, why he'd just left her alone down here... why he hadn't killed her already, or done things to her...
Jordan clenched her teeth. Her mind was running in circles again. He was probably counting on that.
Concrete pressed against cheek, breast, hip, ankle. Jordan suddenly felt the submissiveness of her position. She wasn't going to let him see her like this.
The wall with the imprisoning pipe was behind her; still lying on her side, she began to wiggle closer to it. The zip-ties around her wrists shifted, clawing at the bloody flesh beneath. It was hard not to scream. Fingers probed gingerly for the string of zip-ties that linked her wrists to the pipe: if she could hold the makeshift handcuffs still then they wouldn't hurt so much.
Jordan took a deep breath and sat up. Prickling coarse fabric slid off her ankle, and something thick and heavy shifted her t-shirt before falling free of her shoulder and into her lap. A blanket. He must have put it on her after she'd collapsed. So he'd already seen her, lying on the floor. The kindness was probably supposed to confuse her, or maybe knowing he'd been there while she'd slept was supposed to scare her, or--
No. She'd worked herself into a frenzy last night, and she'd hurt herself trying to break free. She had to think about something else.
Her skirt was twisted; she used her foot to work it straight again. Jordan hated this skirt. A brown paisley ankle-length peasant skirt was hardly provocative, but it was always catching on things and getting twisted. And she didn't like the way some men looked at her when she wore a skirt. Predatory looks. If it weren't for her meds, looks like those might make her--
Jordan willed the thought out of her head. She wasn't like that anymore. That was in the past. She had her meds, and her time at Ravenwood, and it had been a very long time since she'd felt... that.
The basement window was on the wall behind her, a few feet to her right, partially blocked by a metal shelving unit laden with leftover paint and fishing tackle. The dull light wasn't much, but it was enough to outline familiar objects: washer and dryer, step ladder, disused mountain bikes.
Jordan had spent plenty of time down here before, "waiting for laundry" -- really, avoiding Lynn's mom. Anne liked to give advice without being asked, most of it about getting a boyfriend, or about changing clothes or makeup or hair or diet in furtherance of getting said boyfriend. But Anne was a decent person -- and she and Lynn's dad Robert were as close to parents as Jordan was going to get. Of course, they didn't go through what Jordan's mom and dad did. They didn't know who she was. Lynn knew, basically, but she didn't seem to care. Lynn didn't care about anything that wasn't in the moment.
Jordan wondered how Lynn would feel about being here in this moment. She'd probably be pissed at the inconvenience of it -- couldn't he have picked a different weekend? She'd be demanding a shower. And a hard lemonade. She'd probably flirt with him, or at least tell him he'd lost any chance of sleeping with her. Lynn would probably make light of it, right up to the last moment.
They were opposites in every way. Lynn, the tall curvacious redheaded party girl; Jordan, the petite brown-haired demigoth. Lynn, the center of a perfect and very upper-middle-class family; Jordan, a de facto orphan with two jobs, three scholarships, and four dollars in her pocket. Lynn, always with a different guy and usually juggling several at once; Jordan, always with a different book and usually juggling several at once. The only thing they had in common besides a dorm room and a fondness for pistachio ice cream was Ravenwood -- and even in that they were opposites, Lynn there just for a "crisis" weekend and Jordan for... well, longer.
Something overhead began to hiss. Running water. It went on for a while; was he taking a shower? He was certainly making himself at home. No doubt eating the food she'd brought, too. Did he know that Lynn and her parents were in Nice for Spring Break? Did it matter that no one knew Jordan was out here? She didn't think she was the point of his visit; did she ruin his plans or was she a minor inconvenience? --Stop. Clarity didn't simply come when called. Not real clarity.
There was a gritty taste in her mouth; she'd probably breathed in dust off the floor. He hadn't bothered to gag her. He had to know there was no need. People bought property out here to be left alone, and most of them only came out for the summer. The house across the road was the only one you could see -- barely -- and they didn't seem the type to check on the neighbors if they heard something.
Not that anybody would. Not when the call of a jay sounded so much like a distant scream.
The water shut off. Jordan listened hard, but unless he went into the kitchen she wouldn't hear him.
The shapes in front of her began to shift; it almost looked like the washer and dryer were squatting. Jordan felt a moment of panic -- but no, it was a shadow. A real shadow. Wasn't it? The window -- there was someone outside the window. Him? No, the water hadn't been off long enough.
And then she heard a whisper. "Jordan?" Above her -- coming from the window. She wracked her brain -- who would be up here? Who would know her? Who would be at the basement window?
"Danny?" The 16-year-old whose parents owned the property behind Lynn's, past the creek on the other side of the hill.
"Hey," he answered.
Danny was a little shit. Last Thanksgiving Jordan had caught him down here smoking pot -- too cold to smoke outside, he'd said. The summer before, she found him in the little clearing just up the hill, using a zoom lens to spy on Lynn through her bedroom window.
But today, Jordan was glad the neighbor was a perv. "I need your help."
Danny's voice became clearer; he must have pushed the window open. "You okay?"
"No. Some creep broke into Lynn's house and he..." she didn't want to say she was tied up for some reason, "... locked me down here."
"He's a scary dude, Jordan. Looks like an assassin or something." How reassuring. "I was walking past, and I saw him, so I ducked in here. I don't think he saw me."
'Here' was the dugout shaft, maybe three feet deep, that let indirect light reach the basement window. It was also how Danny had snuck into the basement last winter. Jordan hadn't ratted him out, but she had asked Lynn's dad to move the utility shelves so they partially blocked the window, "in case a wild animal finds the shaft and tries to get in." The shelves weighed a ton -- Robert almost couldn't move them -- so now Danny couldn't get in. So now Jordan couldn't get out.
But Danny could call for help. "Danny. Call the sherriff."
"Dude, I don't have a phone."
Naturally. "Go back to your house."
"Dude, what if he sees me?"
"He won't see you."
"Dude, just a minute ago he was standing at the picture window, just staring out across the yard."
"So go around the other way."
"Dude, it's hella slippery that way. Stupid leaves... I almost busted my ass getting down here."
"So be careful."
"Dude, I can't. Gravity, dude."
So much for chivalry. And, "Dude. Stop calling me dude."
"Sorry. I been hangin' out with this girl lately, she says 'dude' to her friends all the time."
So Danny had a girlfriend. Maybe he wouldn't spy on Lynn this summer. Though Lynn probably liked it...
That didn't help her now. "Look, I know he might see you, but... Danny, I don't know what he's gonna do to me." She tried to sound scared; it wasn't hard.
"Don't worry, I won't let him do anything to you." So chivalry wasn't dead, just retarded.
"He has a gun." Probably not the best argument for rabbiting home.
"But I have the element of surprise."
Yeah. And people with guns don't shoot at things that surprise them. "Danny..."
"What if he tries something while I'm gone?"
What if he tried something while Danny was here? "Danny, listen to me. I need you to go get help. This guy is... I don't want you to get hurt."
"But I can help you." He wasn't whispering anymore.
"That's what I'm asking -- go get help." Were all boys his age this slow? And... did his voice change since the last time she saw him?
"No, I mean I can help you. Like when you were little."
Jordan felt the blood leave her skin.
Danny wasn't Danny.
The whisper in the dark belonged to someone else -- a shadow from Jordan's past.
Black dread squeezed Jordan's chest.
She'd met Waite when she was a little girl. For a while, they were best friends; they went everywhere together.
But Waite was Chaos. His "help" made things worse. Waite was the reason she needed meds. He was the reason she'd been sent to Ravenwood.
Waite had hurt someone -- and he'd done it for her. He'd been helping Jordan and he went too far.
Waite would always go too far.
"Come on," Waite said, "it's been a long time, but I know you still feel something."
But Jordan didn't feel anything. She didn't want to feel anything. What she was feeling was... was... it was just fatigue. And... of course: a physical reaction, things out of whack because... "Shut up, Waite; I just missed my dose. It's a physical reaction." Her mind hardened, anxiety replaced with anger. "Like nausea," she said with sting.
Waite seemed miffed. "It wasn't easy to find you."
"It wasn't easy to lose you," Jordan snapped back. "You ruined my life."
"You can't blame me for what they did to you."
"They were scared. I was scared."
"You know I'd never hurt you."
"That's not what they were afraid of," she snarled.
Waite was defensive. "I never hurt anyone unless you ask me to."
"I didn't ask-... I just asked you to help. I didn't know what you'd do."
"You didn't just ask for help," Waite admonished. "You said, 'make it stop.'"
"I didn't ask you to hurt them."
Waite's voice darkened. "But it's what you wanted."
"I didn't want that!" Jordan shouted. "Fuck, Waite, I was eight!"
"I'm sorry, babe." He didn't sound it. "But I can't help what I am, any more than you can help what you are. No matter how many pills you take, it's still there."
"If it wasn't, I wouldn't be here."
Jordan tried to push the tremor out of her voice. "I didn't ask you to come."
"So you'd rather be stuck with him?" It was a rhetorical question.
But Jordan answered it. "Yes." Hateful. Fatalistic. Desperate.
"Don't be stupid. You know he plans to kill you."
"You don't know that."
"He's an assassin."
"Come on. Who lives out here? Across the street? You think Lynn was joking when she said she lived across the street from a mob boss? And what's in the long briefcase upstairs? You think he's going to let you go now that he's tied you up? Now that you've seen him?"
"I didn't get a good look at him."
"Like he cares..." Waite trailed off. "Oh. I get it."
His voice softened.
"You avoid them." He sounded hurt. "Am I really that bad?"
"How can you ask that?" Jordan's voice cracked; she felt herself slipping. She knew when Waite hung around long enough, eventually things started to become clear.
No. That wasn't clarity. That was the opposite of clarity.
"Well," Waite said ruefully, "maybe you haven't really seen him. But from the look of things, you will."
Jordan's voice cracked again. "I won't."
"Do you really think you can talk him out of it?" Waite sounded angry. No... upset. "You're in deep shit, Jordan, and you need me to help you get out of it. Why don't you want me to? What are you afraid of? You'd rather die than ask me for help?"
Jordan felt reality tighten around her.
Waite's voice turned nasty. "You think he doesn't deserve it?"
"No one deserves what you did!" Jordan screamed.
"You don't believe that, do you? You saw them. And you'll see this one too. You can't close your eyes forever."
A desperate tear rolled down Jordan's cheek. "Only when I see myself," she whispered.
Waite's voice became more forceful. "You can't do this, Jordan. You can't ask me to just let you die. You can't ask me to watch you... kill yourself, to save some... hit-man."
"It's not about him."
Something thunked at the top of the stairs; a sliver of bright light streaked across the floor, then widened. Black boots stepped with unexpected lightness down the stairs, bringing Jordan's captor with them. He stopped at the foot of the stairs; Jordan's eyes fell to his hands, which were held out in front of him, clasped together around a pistol and a flashlight. The light swiveled and blinded her briefly, then moved away; the utility bulb overhead came on, and Jordan had to squint.
"Who are you talking to?" His voice wasn't as deep as her imagination had made it since last night, when he'd tersely instructed her at gunpoint into her current predicament.
"Nobody," she said flatly. She watched him through the corner of her eye as he performed a cautious search of the darker crevices. His gaze seemed to linger at the window shaft for a long extra moment.
"Talking to yourself, huh?"
"Something like that."
He stood in front of her, almost leaning over her; she looked away.
"Jordan," he said. Must have gotten it from her purse. "Unusual name."
"I always thought it was a guy's name. It's unusual for a girl, at least one your age."
Why was he chatty all of a sudden? Jordan steeled herself.
The situation was changing.
"Where are you from?"
He grunted. "You don't sound like you're from Wisconsin."
"Well I am. I go to school there. Go Badgers." Jordan heard the snarkiness in her voice. It probably wasn't smart, but it was hard to suppress it.
He leaned down and grabbed her chin, forcing her to face him. "Don't bullshit me." His voice was patient, serene, serious. He was not one to lose control, but he was one to take it. He flicked the pistol to draw her attention to it, but didn't point it at her. The flick was enough.
"Kansas," she answered, sharply. "Lawrence."
He stood up and took a step back, as if studying her. His eyes were out of her immediate line of sight; she stole a lingering glance at his body. He didn't seem particularly muscular, or tall, or... anything. Maybe a little more fit than average. Last night's close-fitting black turtle-neck and slacks had been traded for a tan polo and olive cargo pants. Colors that were hard to see in the woods.
"Lawrence," he repeated, as if recalling something.
"I know you."
Jordan's eyes fell to her lap. "I don't think so," she muttered, unconvincing.
"Yeah," he said, drawn out. "From that TV show. 'Real Beyond.'"
"You're the girl who set those kids on fire."
Jordan squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, shrinking in the shadow of a memory so meticulously caged, a memory suddenly loosed and looming...
Her brother Howard wipes his mouth. His lip is bleeding.
Howard always tells her to run home before they start, and she always listens. But not today. Today she's staying with him.
Today is different. They're different. She feels it, even before they start teasing her. They usually do it just to get a rise out of Howard. But today they seem... meaner. Waite always told her they were mean boys, especially the quiet one, Frank. Now she feels it. She sees it in their eyes.
"Jordan," Howard repeats, "go home."
"No," she pouts, grabbing his hand, squeezing it tight. If she stays, they won't hurt him as bad as they were going to. Because she's a girl. Because she's only eight. Because she'll tell.