As I stumbled into the land of the living, water burst from my lungs. I was lying on my back, so I quickly rolled over to my stomach and propped myself up on my elbows. From there, I coughed and sputtered for a good five minutes. Water spurt from my mouth and nose as I attempted to clear my lungs, and I think I may have coughed up a small crustacean.
After the coughing spell, I collapsed and rolled back over to my back. I hadn’t woken up to the 1812 overture this time, but it certainly felt like my brain was being bombarded by cannon fire. Ow. I rubbed my head as it throbbed. Did I bump it, or did it ache from nearly drowning? On that note, where was I?
I gingerly turned my head to take in my surroundings. I was lying on a hard concrete floor. On my left side was a wall made of the same material. I rotated my head around to survey what was on my right. There were metal bars reaching from the floor to the ceiling. So… I was in some kind of prison cell.
As my eyes adjusted, I was able to make out a figure, standing just on the other side of the bars. I unconsciously jolted backward in terror. There stood a man who I could only describe as an inverted Slenderman. He wore a black morph suit, and a white lab coat, stained with blood splatters, overtop. As I shrunk away from him, he stood, with his arms behind his back, passively observing me for nearly a minute.
When I could see that he wasn’t going to say anything, I decided I had nothing to lose by asking him for some information. I pulled myself up to my knees and faced him. What was I the most curious about? Where I was, or who he was? I decided to ask both.
“Where am I? And who are you?”
He pulled out a stack of legal-size paper, and showed me the top page. Written in giant letters, it simply said:
What? He already had a card for my question? I was totally confused, but found myself choosing a question.
“OK. Where am I?”
This strange man moved the top card to the back of the stack, revealing a second which said:
IN MY LAB
My heart jumped when I saw his prepared answer. Nervously, I pressed for more information.
“Where is that?”
Again, he moved the page to the back.
THAT ISN’T IMPORTANT.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THAT YOU AREN’T LEAVING ANYTIME SOON
“Wh- what do you want with me?!”
THE SAME AS THE OTHERS
SO THAT THE TRUTH WILL BE REVEALED
So he was experimenting on us Ircabim! Using us to reveal the truth behind our powers! Who was this guy?
“Why do you hate Ircabim so much? Why do you want to destroy us?”
I DON’T HATE IRCABIM, I AM ONE
SOMEDAY THE IRCABIM WILL RULE THE EARTH
I’M GOING TO BE THERE WHEN THEY DO
“Then why are you killing us?!”
SOME SACRIFICES ARE NECESSARY FOR THE GREATER GOOD
His prepared flashcard responses were really starting to creep me out. How can we be having a perfect conversation with him only contributing whatever he had already typed out? I demanded an answer.
“How do you know what I’m going to say?! How are you doing that?!”
His response chilled me to the bone as he revealed the next page.
THEY ALL SAY THE SAME THING
I was speechless for an instant. How could he possibly be such a cold sadist? He had captured and killed so many innocent young Ircabim, and had analyzed their conversational patterns to prepare for the next one! Well, he had never had me here before!
“Does your MOM know that you’re wearing her black pantyhose over your head?”
His blank face stared at me for a moment. Then he looked down at his stack of cards, and flipped through them, then back through a second time, before looking back up at me. Then, he took a card from the back of the pile, and strode over to a desk behind him. He quickly scribbled something with a large black permanent marker, and returned to show it to me.
NICE ONE. DON’T HAVE A CARD FOR THAT. I THINK I LIKE YOU
I smirked, even though I knew my situation was still not ideal. But I did have another question.
“Why are you only talking to me with cards? Why not just talk?”
He flipped through his stack, and revealed one from the middle.
IN THE OFF CHANCE I DECIDE TO LET YOU LIVE, I DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW WHO I AM
My heart lightened a little. So there was a chance I could get out of this alive! No one ever had before, but I wasn’t going to let that dampen my spirits. Before I could ask another question he turned the card.
GET COMFORTABLE. YOU’RE GOING TO BE HERE A WHILE
I took a quick glance around my cell. “Get comfortable?” There was literally nothing in the room except for a small hole in the floor in the corner. I turned back to my captor, but he was gone. Well, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my investigation.
I had no idea how much time had passed. I had no clock, no watch, I couldn’t even see the sun! I would guess that several hours had gone by, when I decided to try something. I walked up to the metal bars and wrapped my hands around two adjacent ones. My grip tightened, as my mind focused on generating as much heat as I possibly could. Come on! I know I’ve got it in me! I’ll melt these bars out of my way, and get the hell out of this cell!
I closed my eyes, and offered a prayer. God, if you’re really there, help me get out of here. Give me strength! I could feel the heat welling up inside of me, coursing through my body. Now if only-
Just then, Doc Slenderman walked into the prison room, holding another of his white pages.
DON’T EVEN BOTHER
THOSE BARS ARE MADE OF A HAFNIUM ALLOY
YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO GET THROUGH THEM
Crap. He must have anticipated capturing a fire-caller someday. The man sat down at his desk, and began preparing some kind of device.
“What’s that?” I demanded, but he was working, so if he had a card, he couldn’t show it to me.
After a few seconds, he turned back around to face me. In his hands was a hypodermic needle on the end of a long shaft. The needle was attached to a syringe style mechanism, but instead of a plunger, there was a tube that extended for several feet into a large vacuum pump.
I began backing away from the bars. If he wanted my blood, he’d have to fight me for it. The man approached the cell, and tried jabbing me with the needle. I dodged, and tried to break it off. He yanked it back, and plunged it forward again. Once more, I evaded. Our strange dance lasted for slightly over a minute. Then, he apparently had enough. With a wave of his hand, a pulse of water materialized, and slammed me into the back of the cell.
I gasped from the shock of the cold water, before my head banged against the hard concrete wall, and then the floor. My body ached, and sharp shooting pain went from my head down my back. I still wasn’t about to give him what he wanted. As long as I could breathe, I would fight. Then, the water rose up from the ground, and covered my face. I thrashed against it, but there was no way to fight it as it tried to force its way into my lungs.
I coughed and choked on the fluid. Was he going to drown me right here on the floor? I fought to keep it out of my nose and mouth for as long as I could, until my body was too exhausted to continue. Just as my vision turned gray and almost to black, the suffocating water abated, and I lay flat on my back, barely having enough strength left to gasp for each breath.
Doc Slenderman opened the cell door and casually jabbed me with the needle. I was unable to fight back as the pump sucked away some of my blood. I had no idea how much he took, my mind was still totally hazy, but it sure seemed like a lot. After finishing, he withdrew the needle, and walked out of the cell. The man dropped a page onto the floor next to me.
I TRIED TO DO IT THE EASY WAY
EVERY TIME YOU STRUGGLE, I’LL DROWN YOU LIKE THIS
“What have I gotten myself into?” was the last thought I had before I passed out.
I had no idea how long I was held captive. Time had no meaning when the only thing I had to do was use the hole in the floor. It must have been at least a couple of days. Several times, Doc Slenderman would come by and take more of my blood. Each time he came, my mind and body reacted in absolute panic, and I recoiled away from the bars. I had always been afraid of water, but now, I was absolutely traumatized.
Even though I scooted to the far end of the cell, I was too terrified and too weak to put up much resistance, and he took what he wanted. My mind was cloudy from exhaustion, lack of food and water, and blood loss. At first, the only thing on my mind was to escape in any way possible. At this point, I only thought of one thing. I’m going to die.
I no longer cared about the Doctor, or what he was doing with my blood, or even anything outside of my enclosed little cell. How long would it be until the end came? Hopefully the darkness would come soon, and never leave. Then I wouldn’t have to face this misery anymore.
“God,” I prayed silently. “If you’re going to do something, do it now. I don’t have long.”
Abruptly, the door squeaked open. I didn’t even turn to face my tormentor. I didn’t have enough energy to move anymore. If he wanted to kill me, that was perfectly fine. Then, to my absolute surprise, I heard a voice.
“Sera! Oh my gosh! Sera! Are you alright?”
That hushed voice sounded extremely familiar. I slowly turned my head toward the source. My vision was not up to par, but I recognized who it was. Standing at the entrance to my cell was Kyle Gouda. Right now, his timid boyish face appeared as the face of an angel.
“Kyle…” I moaned.
I agonizingly dragged myself over to the bars.
“Don’t worry! I’ll get you out!” He assured me. “Everything’s going to be OK!”
“Watch out for…Doc Slenderman.” I warned him as he fiddled with the keyhole built into the bars.
“Who? I haven’t seen anybody.” He gave up on the lock. “This is no use. I can’t get it. Where’s the darn key?”
“The Doc…has it.” I explained weakly.
Kyle looked around the room frantically for a moment, before focusing back on the bars.
“I have an idea. Stand back.”
The young man took a deep breath, and grabbed two metal poles at about shoulder height in front of him. He closed his eyes, and concentrated. At first I wasn’t sure what he was doing, until I began to hear a slight hissing sound, and smoke began to appear. The bars couldn’t be melted by heat, but they could be corroded by his poison. His heart pounded, and his ears were tuned to the slightest sound that would mean the Doctor was coming back. I stared intently back and forth between Kyle’s hands, and the doorway. My heart frantically pumped what was left of my blood.
After a couple of excruciatingly long minutes, his chemical excretion had eaten all the way through the metal bars. The boy then crouched down, and started to repeat the process near the floor. As he was now only a few inches away from my head, I whispered a question to my rescuer.
“How did you find me?”
Sweat formed on his brow as he answered me.
“I talked to the families that you told me to, and learned some from them. When you didn’t meet us at the town hall, I went out looking for you. First, I talked to Mahsa. She said that the mission they went on was to track this guy’s hideout, but they couldn’t find anything. When I looked, though, I found your shoes by the river, so I had a good idea of where to look. I knew they were yours because you’re the only one I know who wears Converse. Eventually, I found the lab.”
My shoes? I looked down at my feet, only now realizing that they were missing. I suppose they were washed off when I was hit with those waves out in the woods.
Eventually, Kyle had corroded away the bottom of the bars. He carefully removed them, and gently set them on the floor to avoid making any noise. He then offered me his hand. With his assistance, I wedged myself through the hold he had created, and got up to my feet. My limited remaining blood rushed from my head, and I nearly passed out. My vision went white, and I stumbled backward against the bars.
Kyle moved to help me, but I held up my index finger with the hand that wasn’t grasping the bars.
“I’ll be alright.” I whispered. “I just need a set…sec.”
He backed off, and looked around nervously.
“OK, but we’ve really gotta move if we want to get out alive.”
“Yeah. That mango’s a bad fish, Rumpelstiltskin.”
“What?” He gave me a bizarre look.
“You just said… oh never mind.”
Kyle led the way, and I limped behind him. He offered his help, but I could do it myself. Or at least, that’s what I told myself. Moving as fast as we could while still maintaining silence, we made our way out of the lab. My brain was foggy, and I couldn’t really tell where we were going. I was able to make out the fact that we climbed a ladder, so we must have been underground. The two of us eventually came to one of Nahalore’s Jeeps.
“Kyle…did you…steal a cat…car?”
“Borrowed!” He quickly corrected. “I’m hoping we can get you back before anybody notices.”
It wasn’t easy, but I managed to climb into the passenger’s side of the all-terrain vehicle. Kyle watched me with concern, but refrained from helping. He knew I wanted to do it myself. After climbing in, I was lightheaded, but felt safe at last. Kyle hopped into the driver’s side, cranked the engine, and hit the gas. We took off away from the lab with spinning tires. It was then, that I noticed the box of granola bars in between the two front seats.
“Kyle, man! You thought of everything!” I exclaimed, grabbing the package.
“Yeah, I figured you’d be hungry, and I know how much you like granola bars.”
I popped open the box, and hangrily attempted to tear at the foil wrapping on one of the snacks. My muscles were feeble, and the package put up quite the fight. I eventually resorted to ripping it open with my teeth, and ravenously devouring the contents. As I went for the second one, Kyle began speaking.
“Sera, when I thought you were gone, I didn’t know what to do with myself. You see, uh, well, the whole reason I, I mean, when you’re around I feel, I mean when you’re not around…”
By this time, I had finished my third granola bar and was heading for my fourth.
“What I’m trying to say, is…oh gosh, how do I say it? Um, Sera, deep down in my heart, my very soul, I’ve always…”
His words faded into nothingness as the traumas afflicted on my vastly strained body finally caught up to me, and my mind shut down halfway through my sixth granola bar.
I awakened some time later, feeling substantially better. However, I still felt weak, and had a killer headache. My body was certainly dehydrated. As much as I hated to say it, I needed water. I turned to Kyle who was in the driver’s seat. He was giving me a peculiar look, like kindness, but beyond, somehow.
“Um, Kyle?” I asked in a sleepy voice. “Where are we?”
“We’re back at the garage.” He whispered.
“Oh, OK. How long have we been here?”
“Almost an hour now.”
“Huh? Why didn’t you wake me?”
His soft expression remained unchanging.
“You were so exhausted, and you looked so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to disturb you.”
“I see.” I adjusted my position to try to sit up more, but was still half laying. “Um, Kyle, I need to ask you something. It’s really important.”
“Y-yes?” He responded, leaning in closer to me.
“Do you happen to have a bottle of water in here? I feel like I’m going to die of thirst.”
“Oh…Um, yeah. Here.”
He handed me an unopened bottle.
I took it gratefully, and took a big drink. My eyes widened. The last time I had water in my mouth, that freak was drowning me with it. Involuntarily, I coughed and sent my gulp spraying out my nose into poor Kyle’s face.
“Sorry!” I sputtered, covering my mouth and nose.
His face was dripping with water, and his eyes were squeezed shut.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
I tried to drink again, but this time I forced my body to accept the liquid. I downed the bottle in a matter of seconds. It didn’t take long before my thoughts were coming more clearly, and I felt more human than I had for days.
“Whew.” I sighed. “That was not fun. I just wish I could’ve stopped that guy from doing his experiments.”
“Well, I’m not telling you where the lab was.” Kyle stated. “I don’t want you going back there.”
I was slightly irritated at his stubbornness, but he was just watching out for me. That’s what friends do for each other. Friends…Josie!
Suddenly, I remembered Josie, and what happened the last time I was gone from her. But that was only for a few hours. This was…I don’t know how long. Days.
I hopped out of the Jeep, only to stumble and almost fall.
“Hey! Where’re you going?” Kyle called, holding my shoes. “You’re not in any condition to be running around like that!”
I turned and shouted over my shoulder.
“I have to check on Josie! Who knows what she’s gotten into?”
I hurried as fast as I could out of the garage. When I opened the door into the underground city proper, I was somewhat startled by how dark it was. The garage was still brightly lit, but the artificial sunlight over the city signified that it must have been night. My body still hurt, but I pushed it toward my home. I sure hope Josie is still there.
Once inside the mansion, I made for my room like a little kid heading for the concession stand at a movie theatre. Opening my door, I saw that it was completely dark, just like last time. Again, the only light was coming from underneath the bathroom door. My heart sank. The poor girl must have been falling into her old habit of stealing again. Well, I would explain to her, with caring and love, that she didn’t have to do that anymore, and we all still accepted her, no matter what.
I quietly approached the bathroom door, and slowly pushed it open. Josie was not stealing. She was holding something… some razor blade. She was silently crying, choking on tears. What she was doing with the sharp implement was not what I expected at all. The young girl was making deep, deliberated slashes along her wrists. I froze, aghast.
“Josie! What’re you-“
Her head whipped around to face me.
Her eyes were full of tears, and I saw a pain and despair in them that I had never seen before.
I had no idea what to say. This was totally shocking to me. This happy, innocent-looking girl was inflicting self-abuse? Cutting herself?
My moment of hesitation was all the girl needed to make her escape. She dropped the razor, still dripping with blood, and dashed past me. I tried to give chase, but my legs were like jelly, and I couldn’t keep up.
“Josie! Wait!” I called, but she didn’t listen.
When she made it out of our room, she extended her hand behind her. A massive icicle stabbed up through the ground, completely filling the doorway and blocking my pursuit. I ran up to it and pressed my hands against the icy structure, but my powers were drastically weakened. I couldn’t even melt my way through. I screamed and pounded on the hard ice, but my cries never left the room. My throat was worn raw from crying after being so dehydrated. My head and body ached, and I quickly realized that by the time I would be able to force my way through the ice, Josie would be long gone.
Feeling hopeless and completely physically and emotionally shattered, I slumped down on the floor of my room, and slipped into unconsciousness once again.