We speed down the road so fast that nothing looks like reality outside the window. It's all a blur of color and sounds and I think I may be going into shock. I can't figure out where we are even though I know this neighborhood; I've lived here my whole life. My hand moves and touches shards of glass littered on my lap, on the twins. With something to do I start trying to clean them off and get the seat itself as free of glass as possible. The man watches me in the rearview mirror as I climb over Kira and wedge myself between her and Michael so I can hold them both close. The wind from the lack of a back window sucks my hair back and I'm freezing but that's the least of my worries. I must look cold, though, because the man reaches for the heater and turns it up to full blast.
"I'll stop as soon as it's safe. There's a blanket in the trunk."
I want to reply, to snap at him, to ask a million questions but I can't even get my lips to move. So instead I try and think. Somewhere in the logical parts of my brain I know there is something I should be doing besides panicking and trying to come up with threatening comments. Observe. That's right, I need to take this all in and commit it to memory.
What color had the car been? I close my eyes and think back to my walk down the street, when I'd first noticed it. Blue, maybe black. With gray interior. I don't know the model or make but maybe if I can get a look at the steering wheel the insignia will be there. Then I look at the side of the man's face. I can't see much, except that it looks like he didn't shave today and he has rather prominent cheek bones. And the green eyes. What else? His voice. I need to hear it again, to commit it to memory.
"What happened to my brother and sister?" My own voice sounds a lot calmer than I feel and I force myself to meet his mirrored gaze back at me.
"I don't know. They were like that when I found them."
For a minute I forget that I'm trying to memorize his voice. His answer only spawns more questions and suddenly my mouth has no problem talking. "You found them like this? Where? Who are you? What do you want with us?"
"I found them in your house."
"You mean you kidnaped them."
"I saved them."
"From their own mother?"
"That woman is not your mother. Listen kid, I'm not asking you to believe me right now. I just need you to sit there and keep quiet. Understand?"
I don't bother answering. Instead I replay this brief conversation over in my head. Found them, saved them. What does that even mean? As I'm replaying the conversation a third time I pick up on the subtle hints of an accent. Nothing European or anything, something more homegrown. Southern. Yeah, there's definitely a hint of a twang in some of his words. So what was a southern boy doing all the way up in Michigan?
By the time we get to the highway we've lost the sun and there is no moon tonight, making it seem darker than it should be. The heat from the radiator is only doing so much, especially now that our speed has increased, which I didn't think was even possible at the rate we were going. I hope against hope that he goes so fast that we get pulled over. Then his game would be over and this would all be just a really horrible nightmare. But we drive for a long time and eventually I fall asleep.
I'm woken up sometime later when I feel movement beside me. My eyes open and I see the man reaching in, scooping Michael into his arms. "What are you doing?" I scream, clawing at his arms to tear my brother away from him.
"Relax!" he hisses. "I'm not going to hurt him. You will if you don't stop tugging at him, though!" He's much stronger than me and I clearly stand no chance. Not knowing what else to do, I wrap my arms around Kira and watch the man as he lays Michael on a blanket he's laid out on the ground. It's then I realize we're parked somewhere, with nothing around except for the highway about a few hundred feet away.
"What's going on?" Kira asks groggily. I only hold her closer and watch the man with venom in my gaze. If he does anything to hurt Michael I will spring from this car faster than a lion taking down a zebra. He really has no idea who he's messing with. I could run right now and never be caught, but that meant leaving my siblings and that was not something I was prepared to do. He looks up at me after a second, a frown on his face. His hand flashes out and something is flying at me. I catch the keys without difficulty.
"There are some clothes in the truck. Get them out and redress him."
"Because I don't want my car smelling like urine, that's why. Let's go, hustle." I start to pull Kira out with me and he stands, shaking his head. "She's fine just where she is. I said you get the clothes, not her."
"Maeve..." Kira grips my hand tightly. "Don't go, Maveve!"
"Shh, it's okay." I kiss her forehead. "Im just going to get Michael cleaned up. I'm right here. I'm not leaving you." She whimpers as I scoot across the seat and leave the car. When I stand I see our kidnapper's about a foot taller than me. He stands there with his hands on his hips, waiting.
"I swear, if you touch them..."
"Get the clothes," he growls. "Think if I wanted to molest your kid brother I'd get the clothes myself?"
I keep my eyes on him all the same, rounding the back of the car and sticking the key in the lock. Ford. Dark blue Ford with gray interior driven by a man at least six feet tall with dark hair, stubble, green eyes, and a southern accent. I lift the trunk and find different bags and tools. They're all fairly nondescript so I have no idea which bag to look in.
I resist the urge to snap back, and take the first bag my hand touches. Inside are blankets and various articles of clothing. I grab all three blankets and a sweater and jeans that will be huge on Michael, then go to close the trunk. As I do I see something and pause. There is something else in the bag. My eyes glance in the man's direction to make sure he hasn't moved, then I reach into the bag one more time. A cell phone. My own had been dropped in the scuffle. I take this one quickly and shove it into my pocket just as he steps over to my side.
"Is there a problem?"
"There's nothing back here that will fit my brother."
"Do I look like I care? Get him dressed. I'm going to take your sister to that port-a-potty over there."
"Like hell you are!"
He moves with alarming speed, his face close to mine as he takes my chin in his hand. "I don't want another accident in my car. Get your brother dressed. Now."
I jerk my head free and feel panic rise up in me. Yeah, there is a toilet and a pay phone under the one tall streetlight at this abandoned little rest area. But he's taking my sister out of my direct line of sight. And he knows I won't take Michael and run if Kira is still with him. He knows I don't have a choice but to listen. With the blankets and clothing in hand I stalk back around the car and look in at Kira. "Do you have to use the bathroom?" She nods and I try my best to look calm. "Okay. There's one right over there. This man is going to take you..." She opens her mouth to protest, "...but you're going to be perfectly safe, okay? Do you trust me?" There are tears running down her face but she nods. I make her a promise of safety and if this man breaks my promise to her she will never trust me again. But I know I have to do it.
She gets out of the car slowly, looking at me the entire time until her feet are on the ground. Then she looks up at him and I see her shaking. "It's okay," I coo, running a hand over her fair hair. "Hurry up and go and you'll be right back here with me. Don't put up a fuss, all right? Just hurry." Kira sniffles but starts for the outhouse. The man looks at me for a minute in a way that suggests he's surprised my words work, but then he's following my sister as she walks away from me. As soon as she's in there by herself, I scoot around to Michael and work on changing his soiled clothing.
It takes me a matter of seconds to redress him but I take my time getting the oversized sweater onto him. With my back to the man, hunched over Michael's head, he can't see me slip the phone from my pocket and turn it on. I listen for footprints because glancing around would raise suspicion. As soon as the phone is booted up I dial the number for my house. It beeps at me and I realize there's no signal. Of course there isn't. Fingers working swiftly, I go to the text message inbox and start reading.
It needs to be done today.
This is too delicate to hesitate on, Colin.
What's the plan of action?
Have you found them yet?
Only four messages all sent from the same contact: Unknown. It's one of those older phones that keeps sent and received texts separate, and as I'm getting to the sent box I hear the slam of the outhouse door. As quickly as I can, I shove the phone back into my pocket and go back to readjusting Michael's sweatshirt.
"Maeve," Kira says as she approaches. "Is Michael okay?"
I pull her into a hug, quickly checking her over for any sign of harm, and nod. "He's okay. Just taking a little longer to wake up than you did. You okay?" She nods and rests her head against my shoulder. The man crouches down on the other side of Michael and touches two fingers to my brother's throat. His brow furrows and I can only assume he's counting. When he pulls his hand away I wait for him to say something. Instead he just looks down at Michael. For some reason this makes me panic. "Is he okay?"
"Yeah." There's an under-current of confusion in his voice. "I don't understand why he's still out of it."
"He's small for his age." I run a hand through my brother's hair, worry creasing my own brow. "He was sick a lot as a baby. Things affect him differently." Why I said all that was anyone's guess. I bite my tongue, mad at myself for offering so much. But the man only shakes his head.
"Put a blanket on the back seat and wrap these two up. Do you have to use the bathroom?"
I do but there's no way I'm leaving both of them with him. "No." I hold tightly to Kira, wondering why he sounds less harsh now, why he's almost acting nice. As if detecting my thoughts he stands up and barks, "Move it!" I'm on my feet, wrapping Michael in a blanket while Kira puts one over the back seat. Once Michael is back in the car, Kira and I get in and drape the third blanket over all three of us, our brother in the middle. Under the blanket Kira grabs my hands and I squeeze her fingers for reassurance.
The man goes to the trunk again and the car rocks slightly as he rummages around. Another blanket is tossed over the broken window and I can hear a thick roll of tape being unwound to hold it in place. Eventually he gets back inside and starts the car up. But instead of driving we just sit there. Heat permeates the interior of the car before he turns in his seat to look at me.
"Listen to me very carefully, Maeve. Any time I give you an order you are to do it without question and without hesitation. I tell you to move, you move. I tell you to duck, you duck. I tell you to run, you run."
"Why would you..."
"And you do not ask me questions. Is that understood?"
I glare at him. He may sound almost nice again but no one talks to me like I'm a child. "Where are you taking us?"
His eyes narrow and he shakes his head. "What part of 'no questions' did you not understand?"
"I don't understand any of this!" I exclaim. "I don't understand why we were kidnapped. I don't understand why my brother and sister were drugged. I don't understand why you're keeping us or where you're taking us. I don't understand anything!"
"You don't have to," he replies evenly. "You just have to follow orders."
"What, like a little soldier? I'm sorry but when you shoved me into your car you didn't get some weeping little girl who will do anything you say because she's about to break down, she's so scared. You got someone who knows how to think for herself and will fight you tooth and nail at any and every chance she gets."
"And apparently doesn't know when to shut up!" His loud voice echoes inside the car and it is effective enough to get me to close my mouth for the time being. "I'm not going to say it again, Maeve. You will listen to me if you want to keep your brother and sister safe."
Sure, play that card. An entire stream of cuss words runs through my head because we both know I will listen to him if it means the safety of the twins. "Fine," I snarl through my teeth.
"Glad we can see eye to eye."
This statement brings out his accent even more, making it sound like he said "Ah t' ah." How far south do you have to go to get that type of an accent?
"How about giving me the phone back, too?" I freeze but there is a hint of a smile on his face. "It was in there before you got into the trunk so don't even try with the excuses. I'm not an idiot." I wiggle around under the blanket and pull the phone out of my pocket. When I reluctantly place it in his hand he says, "Thank you," and turns around.
I want to ask him what the deal is. Why is he shouting orders and commands one minute and thanking me as if he's all polite and we're buddies the next? Is this the kind of mercurial attitude all kidnappers have? Because if he's shooting for Stockholm Syndrome it certainly isn't going to work on me. "Colin's an Irish name," I say, my tone cocky. I'm sure he already knows I've looked through his messages so I don't care if he knows I know his name.
"So's Maeve." He puts the car in gear and we're rolling along again toward the highway.
"Well look at that," I say sweetly. "We're already bonding."
"Don't go getting too excited, princess. I never said it was my name."
I blink because the possibility never occurred to me. Why wouldn't the phone be his? Unless it was stolen, of course. The man has already taken three children that didn't belong to him so stealing a cell phone really isn't too out of his league. Kira's staring at me, willing me with her eyes to shut up. I know she's scared and I'm sure my conversing with this man is not making things any better. I offer her a small smile and squeeze her hands. Then I settle in and rest my head atop Michael's and find myself praying to a God I don't even know if I believe in.