Inside even the strongest person, who has overcome the most treacherous obstacles, lives the little kid who was afraid of the things that went bump in the night. Walking through the darkened halls of Refuge, she held her breath, suddenly feeling six years old again.
Her heart beat like the quickened feet of a jackrabbit on the run. Her eyes saw through the dimmed light as though they were the trained eyes of a night predator. With all her training, all the battles she had fought, the lives she had taken, the names in her box, she still felt like she was a child, as helpless as the first day she had been left here.
Letting out a slow breath, she turned the corner. Get in and get out. She told herself.
As many years that have passed, this place seemed to have stood still in time. It looked exactly the same as it did the day she arrived, and the day she escaped. As eerie as that was, it was great. That meant she could figure out where they had taken Hunter.
There were a few places they could have been hiding him.
The barracks were used to house new arrivals, get them comfortable to the idea of living here before they were thrown into the life of Refuge. She doubted Hunter would have been brought there; it was where they sent the naïve, those who had no idea of what was coming. If they had thrown Hunter in there, he would tell everyone he was kidnapped and stir up the new meat.
Holding was where they kept the few that were troublesome, but not troublesome enough to not be trusted with others. He would fit there, but it was located in a spot of the main building that would make him too easily accessible.
Her gut told her exactly where he was, and she wished to whatever god would listen that she was wrong.
A large meat locker where they kept those who had severely angered Aleksandr, a place she had spent nights, hell, days when she had been here. It was completely solitary, standing alone and away from everything else in the abandoned building that used to be a lunching hall. It had been converted to a large meat locker, large enough to hold enough meat to feed a small time; usually there was just one piece of meat inside.
She would bet it would be Hunter right now.
Moving through the building, she left out a side door and quickly crossed the courtyard.
The silence was painful. It sliced through her exposing all the nerves and anxieties.
Inside the building, outside the heavy metal doors of the Cold Room were two orphans. She quickly disposed of them before pulling open the door and stepping inside.
The cold cut right through her. She resisted the urge to shiver as she stepped inside. Large meat hooks hung every where, she had always wondered what their purpose was. Had they been put there just to scare whomever had been so unlucky as to be in the Cold Room, or if they had been used.
She hoped they were just for show, but knowing the man Aleksandr was, she couldn’t be sure.
In the centre of the large room, she saw him. His chest was bare, his hands tied behind his back and his bare ankles tied to the steel chair he sat on. His chin was pressed to his chest as his head hung lifelessly. Hurrying across the room, she slid over to him on her knees, pulling his face gently up to look him over. “Hunter?” She whispered.
His skin was pale and there were purple circles under his eyes. His lips were dried, cracked, and losing their color. His lids slowly opened, looking at her. “You.”
“Are you okay?”
“What are you doing here?” His words were halted as he struggled to keep his eyes open. “You need to go. Get out.”
She hushed him, pulling a lock pick out of her pocket and opening the locks around his ankles. “I am going to get you out of here, but you have to be quiet.” She was happy to know he was alive. In these past weeks she had come to… what?
Her relationship with Hunter was complicated and if she was being honest with herself it was something she was never going to fully pursue, but she enjoyed the idea of being normal. Having a life where there was a single person in this world who knew who she was, cared for her and would care if she ever went missing.
Hunter was part of the world she kept in the back of her mind. The one where she had grown up in a nice house with her mother and father, the one where her box was a picture box that was passed down to her as she looked through photos of her family. He was the one she found by chance and loved by choice, in that part of her mind, the part she rarely looked at or brought to the surface.
After she got him out of here, she would make sure nothing like this ever happened to him again.
Getting him up out of the chair, she supported his weight and helped him out of the Cold Room. Outside, she half helped, half dragged him across the courtyard and the main building. She had to go through it, had to get Hunter through and out the other side to where she had left the car stashed in the woods.
All her muscles tightened in her body at the familiar voice that caused her to hold her breath. It was the voice of all her fears, the narrator of all her nightmares, and at a time she had believed it to be the voice of the Devil Himself.
Turning slowly, she swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to relax. She had to be aware, she had to be prepared.
She could hear the footsteps of a heavily booted foot. They moved around in the darkness like the boogeyman in a child’s room. Her eyes followed him, aware of where he was.
“How long has it been?” He laughed at the question. “We both know I know the answer to that.”
As much time that had passed, she felt like she had just seem him yesterday. The fear was ripe in her belly, behind her ears grew hot as her heart quickened and she swallowed past the lump in her throat. Nausea rocked her as she tried to keep calm, keep steady.
She shrugged, still holding Hunter.
Carrying him off to the side, she carefully lowered him to the ground. Reaching in her pocket, she pulled out a small compass. “Move to the East. Outside the large building with the glass dome on the roof, there is a car.” She kept her voice hush, knowing she didn’t have long until Aleksandr emerged from the shadows.
“What?” He looked down at t he small black circle she had pushed into his palm. “No…” He struggled to keep his eyes open.
“Listen to me.” She kept her voice firm, not having the time to try and convince him. “If you don’t go, you will die here.”
Hunter’s eyes widened for a moment. “You.”
“I can take care of myself. Don’t wait for me.” She didn’t wait for him to reply; instead she turned to face the footsteps.
“Foolish.” Aleksandr said. “I never would have bet I would get you back here to Refuge. It had always been the goal since… that day. A goal I was sure would take a miracle to achieve. Yet, here you are… of your own free will.” He laughed.
She felt like his laughter shook the darkness. She could feel the vibrations of it through every inch of her body, she trembled with the malevolence.
“And for…him?” He laughed again. “Why? He’s nobody.”
She said nothing.
“Why?” He asked again.
Waiting, she curled her fingers into a fist before stretching them out.
“Answer me!” Twisting at the waist, she dodged the ebony cane that was hurled through the air at her. It soared past her, impaling a wooden plank leaning against the wall. She looked at it, watched Hunter drag himself slowly out of the room, before looking back at Aleksandr. “It seems you still have that temper.” She wanted to keep him engaged, she wanted to be sure he didn’t hear the low grunts of Hunter struggling, or the sound of his sweaty palms beating off the floor. “Is that cane new?”
He laughed. “An accessory for the gift you gave me when you left.”
Inhaling sharply, she let her mind wander back to the day she escaped Refuge.