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“Late again?!” Marian groaned at her clock and raced out the door. Just as she shut it her skirt caught in the door jam and tore. It was one of those days when everything started out wrong. After running back inside to change she started her car, thankfully it still worked, and drove to school humming softly to herself. “Today will be a great day. Today will be a great day.” Marian chanted to herself. Her grievance counselor said that repeating positive phrases over and over will make it all better. “Think it, and you believe it.” she rolled her eyes at the cheesy comments as she parked and ran into school making it just in time. “Today will be a great day” she smiled to herself.
Marian unlocked her locker and shoved notebooks and textbooks into the jumble, dreading the last day when she’d have to clean it out and unearth the mess within. She slammed the door shut just in time to see a striking lacrosse player walking towards her. As he nodded his head in greeting at his acquaintances passing by, sandy blonde hair fell into his brown eyes. “There’s more then one reason for the jealousy directed at me.” Marian whispered to herself and she smiled at the flower and gentlemanly bow directed at her.
Snaking through the crowd in the endless maze of halls at Union High, James Williams searched for his girlfriend of six months to the day, Marian Lorett. It was an unwritten rule that on a couple’s anniversary he was supposed to buy her pink flowers and take her to dinner. The pressure was high and her expectations were higher. James found her leaning against her locker, smiling at him. A petite girl with long, wavy brown hair and sparkling green eyes, Marian was prone to wearing exotic outfits consisting of patterned flowing skirts, converse, and a black tee shirt, today was no exception. “Good morning my lady.” James bowed and with flourish presented her with a lily, and tickets to dinner and their favorite movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She laughed and thanked him talking a mile a minute about their summer plans. “Yes” he thought to himself “it will be a great last two weeks of sophomore year.”
Little did he know how fragile their lives actually were.
The bustle of the lunch crowd filled the room. Marian, Zane, and James filed outside to sit in the sun, away from the noise and Lucy’s glass breaking laugh.
“I don’t think I did so well on the history final” complained James. “Not surprising since we were up most of the night.” Marian thought to herself.
“Yeah well I know how I did.” remarked Zane
“You did about as well on finals as a penguin would do in flying if it were thrown off a plane” Marian quipped back. James snickered and Zane threw her an angry stare before breaking into a grin “Suppose that penguin had a parachute!”
Dragging through the rest of class, Marian was thankful when the final bell rang.
“Nine days left” James called out to her as he got on the bus.
A few things came up. Be home on Wednesday night. Call me if you need anything. Texted James’ father
Ok cya then. He responded, slightly disappointed at the silent house he had to live alone in for two more nights.
James knocked on the door. “Come in!” bellowed Zane.
The three friends got together every Monday night to watch Buffy the Vampire reruns and polish off a pizza and a half. “Dude trust me, she will say yes I’m positive. I gots skills” said Zane. “She’s out of your league and we both know it.” I replied again just as a knock interrupted our Lucy Pennington argument. “Hey guys! I brought pizza and gummy bears!” Marian’s sweet perfume filled the room. “About time. I was afraid I would waste away.” Zane joked.
Music drifted through the house, it was almost midnight but Marian couldn’t sleep. Images haunted her dreams and the song was eerie and upsetting.
She slowly and careful took the stairs down to check on her sister, Charlene. Though the two sisters looked alike, both were small and had long, silky brown hair, there were very different. Charlene had an incomprehensible gift of music. She could play any song perfectly on her first try. Though it was an amazing talent, it sometimes annoyed Marian when she couldn’t sleep and the music drifted throughout the long halls.
“Please come to bed, love. It’s late.” As if in a trance, Charlene allowed Marian to lead her up the stairs to her room. After shutting the door she laid in the hall, her mind running over everything that had happened over the past year. Not wanting to think about it, she did what she always did, and called James.
Ring ring. Ring ring.
He bolted up in bed, heart racing, drenched in sweat.
James was having another nightmare.
“These are seriously getting old.” He thought to himself
He reached over and grabbed his phone knowing it was Marian needing a pep talk.
“Can’t sleep?” James croaked into his phone, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“no… Sorry for waking you but it’s so quiet and dark and-” Marian sobbed and the rest comes out as a jumble of sniffles and incoherent words.
“Shh it’s ok that’s what Red Bull is for”
He tried to sound cheery hoping she would stop crying soon. Tears always stressed him out.
“I miss her James. Dad and Charlene have been so distant and it just feels like we’re collapsing and they expect me to hold it together.”
James, fully awake and pacing the floor as they had the same conversation for the hundredth time, spoke in soothing tones and softly reassured her.
Six months before, Marian’s mother died in a car crash. Hit straight on by truck driver asleep at the wheel, she passed, instantly and painlessly. Since the funeral, Marian’s dad spent all his time at work and Charlene barely spoke to anyone. As the couple talked she began to calm down and James could hear her relax. Soon she drifted off to sleep listening to his quiet voice. James glanced at the clock, 4:37. “Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Marian quickly smoothed on cherry pink lipgloss and grabbed her bag rushing to get out the door on time.
“I’m so late” she groaned to herself dreading the steely look she’d receive from her first hour teacher.
With her dad working nights and most of the days since her mother’s funeral six months ago, now she had to rely on herself to get to bed on time and make it to school.
The quiet house echoed as she frantically searched for her notebook and favorite necklace.
Ding Dong. Marian jumps as the door bell rings.
“Who would be here” she glanced at the clock “ at 6:50 on a Tuesday morning?!”
Marian swept down the stairs feeling like a ballerina in her flowing skirt, and opened the door. On the porch stood her overly tanned, sugar sweet Aunt Harmony with arms out stretched for a hug.
“Hello darling! It’s good to see you!” she smiled revealing shockingly white teeth.
“Yes, you too! Dad is at work but I’m sure he could answer his phone-“
Harmony interrupted, “No I came to see you! I thought we’d go shopping and have a spa day, I know you’ve been very stressed out and such and it’s the perfect day to just calm down and relax.” Marian smiled, glad to avoid a day of school.
“It’s just preparation for finals so I can skip” she reasoned with herself as she ran back upstairs to get her things.
“Have you seen Marian?” James asked Zane as they took their lunch to the tables outside. “I haven’t seen her all morning.” Zane glanced up. “She wasn’t in class. Must have the stomach virus or something. You know that’s going around right now.” “She was fine when we talked early this morning…” James said quietly. Concerned, he texted her.
Where are you?
Voicemail again, James called between every class but Marian wasn’t answering.
“That’s weird, she always answers” he trailed off.
She grabbed her purse on the way out and locked the door behind her. Marian looped her arm through Aunt Harmony’s and the two walked down the driveway to Harmony’s car.
“So how is the stage and script life treating you?” Marian asked.
“Oh it’s going well: was Harmony’s short answer. She hadn’t spoken since arriving and something seemed to be amiss. Not sure whether to keep quiet or cheer her up, Marian asked where they were going. Harmony flinched as if she had been hit. “Well, I’d tell you” replied Harmony as she nervously attempted a smile. “but then I’d have to kill you. As the saying goes anyway” Marian noticed that Harmony had been gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles were white. Marian decided to keep quiet. “If she wants to talk then she can” she thought to herself. It was then that she noticed they were out in the small town of Eufaula, where the only spa was your bathtub and the shopping centers sold everything you needed to fix a car or milk a calf, but nothing else. “Where are we going Aunt Harmony? This is farm country.” She said softly as they passed flat green pastures dotted with black, white, and brown cattle and metal barns. She glanced over to see tears in the corners of Harmony’s eyes as they continued to ride in silence. “Well something is very wrong here” thought Marian.
Tuesday evening James paced the floor. The house was silent without his father home and he wondered why Marian hadn’t answered. Finally he decided that Zane was right and she just skipped school and slept through his calls. Exhausted from staying up late comforting her, James decided to go to bed early. “She’ll probably be fine tomorrow. I’m just over reacting as usual.” He scolded himself.
The tension between Marian and Harmony grew with each mile they drove further into the acres of the tiny town. Marian had given up on talking since it seemed to make Harmony uncomfortable and upset. Soon they pulled into the driveway of a quaint white cottage surrounded by pretty, round trees and spindle like lilies with vibrant purple petals. Though the place looked as though it was well kept, there wasn’t anyone around and Marian had a strange empty feeling about it. Harmony stopped the car and looked at Marian.
“Dear, I’m so sorry.” She whispered.
The two got out of the car and walked up to the front door. Harmony knocked three times then entered into the black room. With the shades pulled over the window no light came in so the stale air hung heavy with the scent of dust. A crash came from the back of the house and Marian jumped turning in that direction just as Harmony slid back out the door. Marian glanced back and was about to ask what was going on when she was overwhelmed by a sharp pain in the back of her head. Immediately she fell unconscious.
James’ phone rang interrupting his and Zane’s daily Lucy Pennington argument. Glancing at the caller ID he found it strange that Mr. Lorett was calling him. He answered the phone cupping his hand around it to block out the lunchroom noise. “Good afternoon Sir.”
“Hello there James, I was wondering if you knew where Marian is, she didn’t come home last night and I thought she might have spent the night at a friend’s house?” James had a sinking feeling in his stomach. “No I haven’t heard from her since yesterday morning and she wasn’t at school. I thought she might be sick…” he trailed off. “Well if you hear from her, let me know. Good day.” Mr. Lorett hung up. Repeating the conversation to Zane the two realized how strange the situation was. “She probably just went to visit her grandmother. You know she does that sometimes.” Zane reasoned. Assuming he was right, James pushed the worries out of his thoughts and focused on preparing for finals.
Marian struggled to take in a ragged breath. Her head pulsed and throbbed all over. She could hardly move, ropes tore at her wrists and ankles. Mentally Marian did an all over check for injuries, she moved her hands, arms, legs, and neck. Luckily it seems as though she was just hit in the head. Slowly opening her eyes Marian realized that the action was unnecessary because there was no light in the room. She could vaguely make out the walls and door and noted that she was in an empty room lying on scratchy carpet. Having laid on the floor perhaps for hours she was sore on one side, but rolling over with the pain in her head and lack of motion in her ankles and wrists proved to be a challenge so she gave up for now. “oh I fallen and I can’t get up.” She sullenly joked to herself as she thought about what to do next.
James sat on the couch as his Dad paced the elaborate living room of Marian’s sprawling house. The Lorett family was certainly one of the wealthiest in town and one glance at their castle-like mansion would prove it. Despite the luxury and comfort of the well furnished house, the place felt empty and cold with Marian being gone. Two police officers sat comfortably in high backed farm chairs across from him. The first, a tall, looming, critical eyed man fired question after question at James. The second, a porky, quiet police officer, sat taking notes on a small notebook and nodding. Trying to answer each question with enough detail to satisfy them was beginning to take its toil; both James and his father were becoming antsy at the time wasted on questioning them, instead of on searching.
“Why do you keep asking us needless questions? You should be out there” Mr. Williams, James’ father, pointed “and leave us be.” The intimidating officer replied “Sir, calm down, we’re almost done here.”
Earlier they had questioned Mr. Lorett, and he hadn’t spoken a word since, rather he sat gloomily on the couch watching the conversation between James and the police unfold. He stood up offering to make coffee and gloomily sulking off to the kitchen. Once gone the officer asked
“Were Marian and her father having problems? Was there tension between them after the… accident?” James winced at the mention of the tragedy. “He isn’t around much, always off working, but they got along pretty well.”
Mr. Lorett returned, cups in hand.
“So what, do you think I had something to do with this?” James accused.
“Not necessarily but we have to cover everything to make sure we have a clear picture of the situation” replied the officer
“You’ll never get a full picture just sitting around drinking coffee.” James muttered under his breath.
The officers stood up to take their leave.
“Call me if you have anything else that might be useful in locating her.” The porky officer handed Mr. Williams his card.
After they left, a dismal silence settled over the house, broken only by the haunting tune of a piano being played flawlessly upstairs by Charlene, Marian’s sister.
“I can’t just sit and wait. I need to make myself useful.” James said to the silent fathers. Without another word he slammed the door on his way out.
“Ok so I’m in a dark room. I’ve been kidnapped. I’m somewhere in Eufaula. Aunt Harmony, my own family member, did this. It’s sometime around Tuesday night I would guess. Dad will notice that I didn’t make dinner so then he’ll come looking for me right?” she spoke into the room in a small, panicky voice. Terror gripped her and she curled into a ball wishing it was just a dream. Talking her problems out loud usually make them seem smaller and more manageable. Or at least that’s what the grievance counselor told her. Unfortunately it didn’t help this time, she was still in a strange, black place, chocking on dusty air and absolutely starving.
Later that night, or day, Marian wasn’t sure of the time, she heard footsteps outside the door. They were heavy and slow, each one shook the floor just a bit. A rectangle of white light surrounded the door and the creaking handle began to rotate. “this is it” she whispered to herself “I’m done for.”
James dialed Zane’s number.
“Hey hey brah, what’s up?” Zane tried to sound cool.
“I need you to come over as soon as possible. Marian is missing and we have to find her.” James hung up and began pacing his room, a habit he picked up from his father. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Did she get stuck somewhere? Maybe she did run away. Or maybe she’s hiding?” the questions pounded in his head and he had to lean on the bed as a wave of dizziness came over him. James remembered that he hadn’t eaten all day but didn’t want to waste time with it. He heard Zane yell from downstairs, “Family, I’m home!” always the jokester Zane considered himself the second son Mr. Williams never had.
Sitting in the kitchen, after Zane forced him to eat some fruit and cake, the two discussed Marian’s weird absence.
“she didn’t seem upset on Monday after we talked and she would never run away and everyone likes her!” James spoke excitedly and constantly drummed his fingers on the counter.
“Just calm down and breathe. She probably went to her grandmother’s house, you know how she goes there when she misses her mother.”
James bolted up and grabbed his keys and wallet. “Let’s go find out.”
The steps grew louder and quicker as the person drew closer. Marian’s heart pounded so loudly that she was sure they could hear her. Dread filled her mind and she squirmed into the corner and hid her face behind her knees. “This is it. This is the end.” She thought. The door opened and she looked up to see a tall man, muscular and wide, wearing dark jeans and a grey blazer. His eyes were piercingly silver and his jet black hair was slicked back. She inhaled sharply at the sight, he was almost inhuman looking. Behind him she saw Harmony cowering and looking distraught. “You must wonder what you are doing here my sweet.” His smooth, strong voice filled the air and made her hair stand up. “Well I’m going to tell you.” He smiled a secretive, evil grin and flipped the light on. “Wow Marian, way to be a genius and forget about light switches” she silently scolded herself. “Your lovely little aunt has brought you here for me. And you will stay until your cooperative little daddy hands over the cash. It’s really a very simple operation and shouldn’t take too much time to complete. That is, if you’re a good girl and don’t do anything irrational.” Marian barely grasped what he said, she was too distracted by his powerful voice and captivating eyes. “Oh and here’s one more detail, if we do decide to give you back, after I receive the money, you can tell them anything you want to about me and the beautiful Ms. Harmony here. That is, if you don’t mind being buried six feet under.” He explained, his face completely clear of emotion. Marian’s mind began to swirl with the new information. “Any questions?” The hypnotic man asked.
“Yes, who are you?”
He chuckled, his laugh floating around the room like a sea breeze. “Well Marian, I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
It being late on Wednesday evening and an hour’s drive to Grandmother Marge’s house, Zane convinced James to spend the night at his house and leave first thing the next morning. James had never skipped school on purpose and hated to see it on his perfect attendance record but the cause was worth it.
The drive out to Marian’s Grandmother Marge’s house was a long one even if they were just going for Easter brunch or a day visit. But when James and Zane set out to search for Marian there the hour long trip seemed to take days.
“The old gal sure could use a phone. Isn’t that why they invented them? So people don’t have to waste a Thursday afternoon when they could just call and be done in five minutes?” Zane complained
“That would make this easy. Where is the adventure in that? And surely Marian is there and we can go make sure she’s doing alright and come back tonight for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon and we’ll all be fine.” Or that’s what James kept telling himself. “Nothing to worry about we’ll all be fine. It’s all ok. Just be rational and it’s ok.” He thought to himself.
They pulled up to a rickety log cabin type house surrounded by square hedges and yard art. James was met by Charm and Lucky, Grandmother Marge’s little, soft white Shi Tzu’s who spent their days chewing anything plastic and “guarding” the house.
Ignoring the excited dogs, James used the massive gold lion- shaped knocker and listened for stirring inside. While waiting he stood back to admire the strange little house. With its castle- shaped log cabin outside, squared bushes, tiled roof, and old, gothic doors, the house looked like a collection of every style mixed together, just like Grandmother Marge.
Zane chuckled as she began singing Christmas carols on her way to the door. “I’m coming kids, you know I don’t get around quite as quickly as I used to in my spring chicken days” She resumed singing a song that sounded like a combination of Jingle Bells and Let it Snow. The door swung out and she beckoned them inside with a graceful bow and wave of her hand. “Well hello there James, how are you Zane, might I ask what brings you in? Would you like a cookie? I just took some peanut butter cookies out of the oven. I’ll get you a plate.”
James stopped, “Actually, Grandmother Marge, we were wondering if you’ve seen or heard from Marian recently?”
“Why no I’m afraid I haven’t! I do wish you had brought her with you, her sweet smile always brightens my day!” James and Zane exchanged startled looks. “Actually we really need to go, I’m sorry to leave so soon but I just remembered that we have to go somewhere but we’ll visit again soon.” James explained. “Oh alright dear, I understand.” She sighed. “You be good kids, mind your parents and pay attention in school.” James and Zane took their leave more worried than before.
She felt like a cornered rabbit. She looked up at the stranger, who she decided to call Snake, and hoped he wouldn’t harm her. “Well now that question and answer time is over; I have some unfinished business negotiation to attend to. Harmony will bring you something excellent to eat and I hope you will enjoy your stay here at the Cottage Inn, as I like to call it.” Snake gave Harmony a look that would stop anyone dead in their tracks, then turned to leave. Just before he stepped out Snake pivoted on his heal and made a clucking sound in his throat. “Can’t just leave you here like this now can we? How would you ever be able to get to sleep?” his face twisted into a filthy, heartless smile as he unscrewed the light bulb. He was tall enough to reach it without stretching up. After slipping it into his pocket, Snake took his leave. “I’ll make you some tea and a sandwich.” Harmony said haughtily.
Once left alone again, Marian though about the situation. “How could my own family do this?” she wondered and began to tear up. Determined not to show any emotion she took a deep breath and tugged at the bindings around her raw wrists and listened to her stomach grumble in expectation of a meal.
The ride back from Grandmother Marge’s house was worse than the suspenseful ride there. With disappointment sitting heavy on their shoulder the two boys, lost in their own thoughts, watched the scenery change from flat soy bean and vegetable fields to a few trailers and run down houses to the high end houses in Tulsa. Zane’s family, like the Lorett’s, was wealthy enough to live in a house like that. His family made their fortune through investing in blankets with sleeves. Who knew such a concept would sweep the nation and make them millions. When they first moved here, Zane, an only child, went to a sophisticated private school. He purposefully got himself expelled by setting off a chemical reaction in the science lab so that he could attend public school. James knocked a beacon of acetone into Zane’s lap during his first day, ruining his jeans and the phone he was secretly texting with under the table. Over the week of detention the two discovered their parallel obsession with video games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns and had been best friends ever since.
James pulled up in front of Zane’s house and let him out. “See you in school tomorrow?” Zane asked.
“Yeah if I can sleep.”
She greedily ate her sandwich after Harmony had unbound her wrists and left. The meal sat like a lump in the pit of her stomach. Terrified by her circumstances and worried about her father, Marian’s appetite was soon gone. She hoped there was a search party out there looking for her and that at any minute someone would bust through the door and save her. But in her heart she knew there was no hope. She was out in the middle of nowhere and suspicion would never be cast on her Aunt Harmony. And who is Snake? Why did he want her in particular, was it random or does he have some connection to her father? She wracked her brain trying to recall if she had seen or heard of him before. Nothing stirred in her memory though. All that’s left to do is question him or her aunt and pray that she can get home before someone gets hurt. The prospect of her father having to give up the family fortune to save her was sickening and for a moment Marian was afraid her sandwich would come back up. She took a few calming breaths and decided that the best way to get away was to outsmart her holders. Elaborate plans ran through Marian’s mind as sleep began to set in. though she hated to sleep on the floor soon she drifted off. Her dreams were filled with frightening imagery of beasts and fires, dark clouds and evil forces. For hours she fitfully tossed and turned on the unforgiving hard floor.
Ring ring. Ring ring.
James grabbed his phone, still half asleep, knowing it was Marian needing a pep talk.
“Can’t sleep?” James croaked into his phone, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“No… Sorry for waking you but it’s so quiet and dark and-” Marian sobbed and the rest came out as a jumble of sniffles and incoherent words.
“Shh it’s ok that’s what Red Bull is for”
“I miss her James. Dad and Charlene have been so distant and it just feels like we’re collapsing and they expect me to hold it together.”
James glanced at the clock, 4:37.
He bolted up in bed, the chilly air enveloping him. James was dreaming of the last time they spoke. That Monday night, not long ago, the final night he heard her. He prayed it wouldn’t be the last.
Soon after being taken hostage, Marian completely lost track of time and day. The lack of sunlight was depressing and made her feel empty and hopeless. “It’s barely a week until summer and I’m stuck inside and wouldn’t know.” The oppressive lack of light was suffocating and the dust laden air made her throat sore all the time. After sneezing repeatedly her headache intensified and before long she was miserable and not afraid to let Snake and Harmony know it, though she didn’t know whether they were even in the house. All she wanted to do was go home, brush her teeth, and shower. Marian’s future looked bleak and she was tired of sitting in her own self pity and boredom and began banging on the door. No one answered or even made noise on the other side. She felt paralyzed and trapped, terrified of the seemingly endless wait.
Hours crawled by and with every minute Marian was sure she was going a little crazier. “Aunt Harmony!” She called “Hello! Aunt Harmony! Please let me go!” Marian sobbed for her lost mother, her handicapped sister, her over worked father, and her own dismal circumstances.
Oh autopilot James got out of bed and went downstairs. It was barely five in the morning but after the unnerving nightmare he knew there was no point in laying there. “May as well get up and make breakfast” He thought to himself as he hopped out of bed and nearly tripped over the stacks of books precariously scattered across his dark room.
James started cooking breakfast and thought about how he could help the police investigate Marian’s disappearance.
“One week of school left buddy! You ready for finals? That’s right big breakfast means better test scores! You’re the man, make me proud!” His dad boomed as he rushed in for a cup of coffee. When not being grilled by police officers, James’ father was a boisterous, loud man. Especially when trying to lighten the mood.
“Thanks dad. I’ll pass, I always do, don’t worry about it.” James winced at the echo of his father’s voice as he carried a suitcase out to the car.
“Alright, well good luck and see you in a few days, okay? You know the drill, no parties, don’t start a fire inside, feed the dog, and call me if you need anything. Will you be ok?”
“Yeah, yeah I got it!” James responded just like always as he watched his father leave again. The business trips had become increasingly frequent since he landed a good job as a journalist, but James didn’t usually mind the empty house for a few days.
He waited as the bus doors recoiled and climbed onto the “Unnerving Vehicle of Insults” as he and his friends called it. James took the bus because it was the only way he could get to school on time. Being terrible with punctuality, James found that catching the bus was easier then trying to leave on time in his car. He slid into a seat next to Zane and put in his ear phones to drown out the daily gossip. Just after he sat down, Lucy Pennington, the stereotypical bubblegum chewing, sweet scented cheerleader sauntered by, pulling Zane from his zone out. Despite her shooting him an icy, belittling stare daily on her way past, Zane was completely obsessed with her.
“We really need to get you out of the house” James said as he mentally counted down the number of days left before summer break.
“Six left,” he said under his breath, “It can’t come soon enough.”
Marian pulled herself together after the minor emotional breakdown feeling refreshed and ready to seriously tackle the problem of getting out. She came up with many elaborate schemes but in the empty room there was nothing to use as a weapon, nothing to use except herself. It was a difficult problem. She wished it was one of those scenarios where you pick one item, one food, and one person, to bring with you when you’re stranded. But she was out of luck. Frustrated with her lack of ideas Marian’s mind began to wander.
Charlene lay sleeping in her mother’s arms. She looked so soft and peaceful wrapped in a pastel blanket, breathing quietly. Back and forth her mother rocked in their back porch swing. A warm summer breeze stirred her dark hair. Back and forth, the swing creaked as they swung. Marian sat on the ground in front of them watching her mother’s peaceful face. It was days like these that reminded her of her family’s love for each other.
Marian stepped out of the shower and into a plush terry robe. Her mother blow dryed her hair and brushed it back into a pearl comb. She zipped Marian’s dress and stood back to admire her glow. “Breathtaking. Darling you make me so proud of the women you’re becoming.” Her eyes got misty as she latched a pearl bracelet around my wrist and father came in to take pictures of me in my deep purple princess dress. I was going stag to homecoming and it was a night to remember.
Footsteps interrupted her reminiscing and the door opened to reveal Harmony carrying a tray of dinner and wearing a smirk. “Hello there Marian, enjoy your meal. Enjoy it thoroughly.”
Trudging through his classes, he feels like the world is spinning in fast motion and he’s stuck just a few seconds behind. Whispers and rumors spread through the highschool about what happened to Marian. No one knows for sure but everyone has a theory they’re sure is correct. James pretends like he can’t hear them calling out questions to him and giving him sympathetic looks. Zane silently follows behind knowing that there’s nothing they can do right now except pass finals.
“James? James!” yells Mrs. Ledder. He sat up quickly and began writing on his paper as though he hadn’t drifted off to sleep. “See me after school.” she commands. James inwardly groans at the time he’ll lose while sitting in her class. Lucy cracks her gum, her equivalent of an insult. I slid down in my seat and tried to finish the test.
“You know better than to fall asleep in class.” Mrs. Ledder shot James a disapproving look but he could tell there was sympathy behind it. “I’m sorry it won’t happen again, I promise.” said James as he backed out of the class room hoping to get out before she said anything else.
“I hear about Marian, it’s certainly a shock isn’t it, someone close to you disappearing. Usually we think we’re invincible, that nothing like that will happen to anyone close to us. But we’re all the same, all connected. It makes you value her life, and your own a little more. We take so much for granted, not realizing how fragile we truly are.” Her speech was slightly creepy to James and he nodded while continuing to back out of the room. “Yes ma’am. See you tomorrow.” He replied and jogged out the doors glad that it was Friday and next week was the last before summer.
“You okay brah? You look sick.” Zane said as they rode back to his house. “Yeah I’m fine, it’s just...” An idea hit him “She had to have left between 5am and 3pm right? Surely a neighbor saw her go. The police already talked to them but maybe they left something out.” He trailed off.
After getting off the Unnerving Vehicle of Insults, the two jumped in the car and drove to Marian’s neighborhood praying for answers.
Zane and James stopped in front of Marian’s house. With her father gone to work and her sister at school the place was empty, perfect for investigational work. First they searched the driveway for signs of anything weird. Not having any luck, James retrieved the house key from the mouth of a pouncing lion statue on the porch and let himself and Zane inside. The cool air brushed pass them as they stepped inside. His insides twisted at the prospect of entering her room without her, not knowing if he will ever see her again, but it was the only way to find out if she truly had run away, or if something worse had happened. He stood in the doorway talking himself into searching it but at the sight of her things and catching the scent of her perfume his bravery and determination crumbled. Zane gently pushed him through and shoving aside his feelings, James began looking for answers.
Marian’s notebook lay open on her disheveled bed. An unusual find considering she never left home without it. The sight sent nervous tingles down James’ back. On her vanity set Marian’s favorite bracelet, a silver chain of charms, half from her mother, and half from James. Immediately he knew she hadn’t just run away or left for a stay with a friend or even gone for walk and gotten picked up by a predator. Surely Marian had been kidnapped.
She was struck with suspicion at the words of Harmony. Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, she pondered what would happen if she ate. Were the bread and soup poisoned? “Well I’ll either die of starvation or die of eating it.” She reasoned as she began to ravenously feast. Harmony only brought food once a day and she was never able to get full; the meal was a very welcome distraction from the cold, dismal, dusty room. Quickly she finished the dinner and didn’t notice anything amiss with it or herself. Hugging herself, she said to the air “I haven’t grown any taller or shrunk any smaller so I must be just fine.” After eating, she lay on the floor and reengaged in the deep thinking she had become fond of doing during the ample spare time. “Well if I arrived here Tuesday morning, then met Snake on Wednesday, sat bored on Thursday, then by now it must be about Friday.” She said to no one. “Funny to think that just days ago I was at Zane’s house watching vampire shows and eating the heads of gummy bears next to James.” At the mention of his name, her heart rate sped up. “I wonder if he’s out looking for me… surely he is. He wouldn’t just sit back and do nothing.” Marian hoped that he would find her before the police did. A whole damsel in distress daydream played out in her head. Spending hours in the silence, these daydreams had been one of her only sources of entertainment, with the only other being scheming out her escape.
James and Zane continued to scour Marian’s room. Though it still felt creepy to go through some of her stuff they had found a few interesting things, the notebook and the necklace. After searching her room James noticed a tube of her signature cherry lipgloss on the bathroom counter. Another item she never left behind. “Zane it just doesn’t make sense!” James called out from across the hall. “I don’t understand…” he trailed off.
Back outside, James and Zane went next door to see if the neighbor noticed anything.
“May I help you?” asked a young girl with braces overwhelming her smile. “Yes, is your mother or father home?” James crouched to her level and questioned. Just then a women appeared wearing a business suit and talking on one phone while texting on another. “Yeah yeah I get- yes I’m- ok ok I’ll take care of it. Hang on just a second.” She held the phone away from her ear. “If you’re selling cookies I’ll take a box of each and three boxes of those minty things.”
“Actually we were wondering if you were here on Tuesday morning. The girl, who lives next door, Marian Lorett, went missing and we hoped you may have noticed anything unusual?” James stumbled over explaining himself after realizing how unlikely it was that she had been paying attention. “I wasn’t here, but the housekeeper was. She comes on Tuesday and Thursdays so you might ask her then. Sorry to rush but I really must go. Thanks, buh bye.” She closed the door before James could answer. “Well brah, back to the drawing board.” Zane said as he lightly punched James on the shoulder.
Within minutes of eating, Marian became excessively tired. She had been daydreaming again only this time the images seemed alive and real. It was as though she was in the dreams, participating in the memories and living them over. Soon she began to feel lightheaded and only became more tired. She laid on her back staring blindly at the ceiling and sneezed. The dust hadn’t gotten any better in the days she had spent there. Earlier she had felt energetic and wanted to get out and run off some energy but very quickly she became so tired that just keeping her eyes open was a task. As she drifted off to sleep, the dreams surrounded her and filled her mind. All was quiet and calm. She slowly lost her grip on consciousness.
Harmony and Snake entered the room a couple hours after dinner. “Wow she’s really out cold. Are you sure that’s good for her?” Harmony asked. “I don’t really care what’s good or bad. All I want is cash.” He lifted Marian off the ground and carried her out onto the dining room table. He cleared away their dishes and laid her out across a stark white tablecloth. He smeared dirt on her face and arms to give the appearance that she was in grave danger, though the reality was he would never hurt anyone. After posing Marian he took a picture, it looked as though she was on the verge of death. “Precisely the point.” Snake responded when Harmony mentioned it. “The worse off she looks, the sooner we receive our money.”
Frustrated and worried, James crossed the street to the other neighbor’s house. He and Zane hoped that someone would have noticed something askew and would be able to give them at least a broad lead. “It’s better than nothing.” James muttered under his breath. Zane was the type who always kept a cool head. He didn’t worry about much and thought through just about everything logically. Without his guidance and composure, James would have fallen off the deep end, which he was quick to remind him of. He didn’t see what the big deal was about everything. Obviously, he was concerned and worried, but that was no reason to run around panicked. Most of the time Zane was able to keep his opinions to himself, but at this point, with James’ stresses overwhelming everything they did, he felt it was time to brooch the subject. “Maybe you’re taking this a little too seriously… yes she could be in danger and yes we are doing the right thing but do you have to be so pent up all the time? That’s the cause of your problems. You keep everything inside instead of talking about it. Then you go around trying to fix everything and suddenly something happens to set you off one last time and you blow up in front of everyone. Maybe you should just take a step back and a day off from your Sherlock Holmes adventures and chill out.”
“That’s the story of your life Zane!” James snapped “you never get anything done. You’re always goofing off and making mistakes that you never learn from. At least I’ll make a name for myself while you just waste away your fortune. And when I find Marian it will be because I focused and got things done while you just skipped around.” Judging by the look on Zane’s face while James talked he could tell that his insults hit home. He instantly regretted his words but couldn’t take them back. The two stared each other down for a few moments before James broke the tension. “Get in the car. I’m taking you home.”
Harmony peered over Snake’s shoulder to see the picture taken. “Well she’s a beauty even when she’s dirty and looks dead. If only we were all so lucky.” she sneered. “Mhm” Snake said distractedly as he adjusted the angles. “And now comes the fine art of picture taking. We must capture the desperation, show the need, and pull on his heartstrings. They are connected to the wallet you know.” Once satisfied with the shot, Snake carried Marian back to her prison room and laid her back where he had found her. He closed and locked the door on his way out leaving Marian none the wiser to his actions.
The room was still pitch black where she lay. It was silent and the air was cold and musty. The carpet beneath her skin was rough and filthy. Slowly she woke up with a feeling of helplessness and anger. “How dare they do this to me?” she cried. As she spoke, the soundproof door opened and James stepped in wearing a suit of bronze armor. “Did I hear your cry of despair, my lady?” he asked her with his sword poised. “Why yes! Please get me out of here! I don’t belong! They kidnapped me straight from my home and they want my brain. It’s so weird!” James gave her a confused look. “What brain? What is this thing you speak of? Oh well, there’s time for questions later. For now, we ride!” He took her hands and pulled her onto his grey horse. “Where to, kind madam?” “How about Italy?” she replied thoughtfully. Away they rode into the sunrise.
Groggily she sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. For a sickening moment, dizziness enveloped her and Marian felt as though she would pass out. She shook her head and tried to remember where she was, how she got there, and why it was so dark. It was difficult getting her brain to function. Sleep tendrils still held tight around her mind and the disorientation made it nearly impossible to stay sitting up. She took a few deep breaths as she began to wake up and remember the circumstances. “Oh wow… that was a really weird dream. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train… ok think clearly. What’s going on? I’m being held for ransom, I’m sick with starvation, I’ve forgotten what the sun looks like, and it’s somewhere between Friday and Sunday and I’m still here.” she said to herself. Again, even after being spoken aloud, her problems still seemed ominous.
Zane and James rode home in silence. Hurt and angry they both stewed in their feelings. James hated arguing. He always felt like he lost and wasn’t the best at persuasion. Usually he avoided confrontation like the plague but today he was in a sour mood and wasn’t himself. When he was younger, he tried out for the debate team because his dad talked him into it. James failed miserably at it and vowed to never befriend a lawyer because he would always feel like the underdog.
James knew that he spent too much time worrying about small things and was wasting his high school life away by always being uptight and tense. He hated how his mind always worked to remind him of stress and negativity. When he and Marian started dating, she showed him how to relax and just enjoy things. In her absence he was soon anxious and jumpy all the time, which got on everyone’s nerves, even his own. Zane knew that James was right. He didn’t take things seriously enough but rather skated through life just working hard enough to get by. Little did James know that he had hit on a secret fear of Zane’s, he was terrified that when given the responsibility of the business and finances, he’d fail and destroy everything his family had worked for. They never forced him to pay attention in school, never taught him how to handle things, so the future was intimidating. Zane was opinionated about everything though and if he ever saw something that he disagreed with or that wasn’t being done correctly, he would call them on it. It was no mystery that he had been in quite a few fights in grade school. That afternoon exposed both friends’ weaknesses and neither would back down and apologize.
Marian’s stomach growled again, it had been hours since she’d eaten. After the sleep wore off, she realized just how starving she was. “Where are they? Why are they taking so long?” she wondered aloud. “I just want to go home!” she sighed. “Yelling and pleading won’t help anything, now will it. We must concoooct a pllawn” she said to herself in her best evil genius voice. Oddly enough throughout the days and nights spent in the depressing situation, Marian had kept herself sane by talking to herself and keeping a sense of humor. “And what if I pull up the carpet, dig a hole through the floor out from under the house into the yard, and slip through it to the freedom outside?” she asked herself “No silly that won’t work, the floor is concrete. And you don’t have anything to dig with.” she replied. Again, she paced through the darkness. “You know, it’s a good thing I was never afraid of the dark. That would render these circumstances rather disagreeable.” She said with a British accent. Marian yawned and fought off the lingering sleepiness. “Eureka! The soup and bread! That’s why I slept for so long!” The truth dawned on her. “Duh! That’s why I fell asleep so quickly and why Aunt Harmony was being all weird about it. Well why did she do that? What could they have possibly gained?” Marian sat in the corner that she called her thinking corner and did what she did best, think. Nevertheless, unfortunately she couldn’t come up with any answers. It was pretty cold in the room all the time and she hoped she would get used to it soon because shivering off and on was very unpleasant. She ran around the room a few times, once nearly hitting the wall because she couldn’t see. “I imagine this would look pretty funny to anyone wearing night goggles that could see me. Oh, I hope Snake and Aunt Harmony can’t! Surly not. It’s very dark. I bet a cat couldn’t see it’s paw in front of it’s face.” Marian hugged herself to fend off the chill of the room and noticed that her arms felt sandy. “How could that have happened? The floor is clean!”
Zane shoved the car door open and slammed it behind him rather rudely. “Sheesh just be a jerk, why don’t you.” he said to the empty car. James watched as he stomped up to his house and let himself inside, shooting one angry glance back in his direction. He exhaled and thought about where to go from there. The house was empty and silent and he didn’t feel like hanging out with friends. It was too hot to jog at the park and it was about to rain. Being struck by lightning would be very inconvenient so he elected to wait until another day for that one. James pulled out of the neighborhood and waved at an elderly man on a lawn mower. He drove through town for a little while then headed towards the only place he could think of. The place he went when he needed to get away from everyone and clear his mind. As he drove through the patter of rain, he hummed along with a Minus the Bear song on the radio and wished he hadn’t drifted so far away from his traveling father. They used to be close enough where he could tell him anything. A friend problem, a girlfriend issue, how much he’d rather be a chef then a professional lacrosse player. However, those days were in the past and it would take too much time and energy to fix them.
He turned onto the all too familiar road and parked the car in the gravel lot. He crunched along the path through the myriad of headstones. James found a sense of peace there and glanced around at the few other people scattered around. He followed the path to the back of the cemetery to a weeping willow and garden area with a lattice covered in honeysuckle and a small white bench. He kneeled in front of his mother’s grave and read the caption again. Next to it stood a vase always filled with lilies. There he sat for hours, remembering her and talking to God.
Armed with something new to think about, Marian began excitedly crawling back and forth across the floor, running her hand over the carpet. She giggled, “I feel like a lawn mower! But with a hand instead of blade.” She was searching in the dark for a patch of dirt or sand that she may have accidentally laid in. That would explain the mysterious appearance on her arms and clothing. She used the task as an opportunity to carefully map the layout of the room. It was very, very dark and Marian had had slight trepidation over the notion of walking all around in the room. She generally stayed to one side or corner and never sat in the middle. Back and forth, she crawled on all fours searching for dirt. “Oh yes. This would definitely make a funny video. First, I run around in slow motion with my arms sticking straight out, now I’m crawling around like a dog, petting the carpet because I’m looking for dirt. Wow I feel really smart at this point.” She noted that there was a low spot in the corner where it felt like a drain was just beneath the carpet. “I must be in a basement!” she exclaimed, excited by the new discovery. “I feel better now! I know a little more about where I am and that’s oddly comforting!” she had taken to speaking her feelings out loud.
By now, anything that was different than just sitting and thinking, was new and enthralling. During her activities, she found a paper clip, which she stuck in her pocket for potential use later. “One never knows when they can use a paper clip to save their life. I could unlock a door with it! Oh, that’s a good idea. I’ll go see if I can unlock the door.” Marian knew that it locked from the outside, but she didn’t have anything else to do.
After covering the entire floor, she reached the conclusion that there was nothing there that could possible match what she found on her arms. “Curiouser and curiouser… it wasn’t there before… not until I woke up. Meaning either I left the room or someone else came in.” Her stomach twisted into knots thinking of what might have happened while she was sleeping. “Well this just got about ten times creepier then I can handle.” she murmured to herself.
James hadn’t seen his father in days, not since the night of the serious interrogation. Being an only child he was used to keeping himself busy, but without Marian, and not talking to Zane, he felt oddly estranged.
“Hey dad I just wanted to check on you and see how things are going there. I’m doing well, just hanging out and stuff. I was wondering when you’re coming home, not that I need you here or anything it’s all fine I was just wondering. Ok so talk to you later… bye.” He hung up and sighed. Realizing that he hadn’t eaten that day, James decided to occupy himself by attempting homemade bread and lasagna. Marian had been trying to convert him to a vegetarian so he relished the opportunity to have something other than soy and vegetables in a meal. James even wore his mother’s old apron specifically for the occasion. Recipe in one hand and spoon in the other soon the whole kitchen smelled like an Italian bakery. “Sure wish you were here Marian…” James said to himself as he maneuvered around the kitchen.
Feeling like Nancy Drew, Marian ran back over the possibilities for the appearance of the dirt. None of them were pleasant. “Why is this taking so long?!” she yelled again. “In the movies it only takes a couple days. You capture the victim, you get the money, and she goes free, end of story.” As her frustration and impatience grew, so did her determination to figure out how to escape the cave of doom. “I could search the upper walls and ceiling for windows or soft spots, then break through and go from there.” Deciding that was better than nothing and glad for a physical activity, Marian began walking around the room, jumping against the walls, and searching for high windows. It was difficult and tiring work, taking a step and jumping several times to make sure she didn’t miss anything, then taking another step and repeating the process. The room was fairly large, which made sense with her basement theory. Therefore, if there were a window or small door it would be above her head. About an hour into the jumping process, Marian became tired and her hopelessness slowly grew. Having spent almost six days alone in the dark with only one meal a day was very hard on her spirit and she began catching herself expecting the worse more and more frequently. She dreaded the day when the depression overtook her and all seemed to be a failure. So until then Marian was determined to keep herself positive and cheery. “It’s a good thing I don’t have a roommate. They would so hate me by now cracking jokes and being cheery.” She laughed. “I’m going to think of myself as a caterpillar! This is my cocoon and I’m just waiting to finish my slow metamorphosis so that I can emerge as a beautiful butterfly!” Had Marian been in her right mind and not been driven nearly insane by the solitude and lack of nourishment she would have been startled at her odd conversations with herself.
With a potholder in each hand, James pulled the thick, tasty looking lasagna out of the oven and sprinkled more cheese over the top. Minutes later the bread finished baking. He set the table and put a cake in the still warm oven to bake while he ate. “I really should get paid for this” he remarked as he admired his handiwork. It was a little known secret that James hoped to be a chef one day. As captain of the champion lacrosse team, most people expected him to get a scholarship and go on to play in college. However, he truly hoped to open an Italian restaurant, Rosalina’s, in honor of his mother. One day he would break the news to his father, but until then James would have to save his cooking skills for dinner with Marian, if that would ever be possible again. As he ran over the details again, the phone rang. Hoping it was his father, James answered. “Good evening, I don’t mean to bother you but I have some interesting news.” said Marian’s father. “Great, I’ll be over in ten minutes.” James rinsed his plate and picked up his keys hurrying to get there. As he drove, he had the nagging feeling that he forgot something. Pushing it out of his head James drove up to the house and parked.
Finally, Harmony brought something to eat. Without a word, she placed the tray inside and left. That’s when it hit her, “what happens to the tray and dishes? They’re always there when I’m finished, but by the time I wake up, they’re gone!” She rested her head on her knee. “This is very odd. Surely they must pick them up while I sleep… that means Aunt Harmony or Snake come into the room.” With that idea in mind, Marian stood up and went to the door. It had intimidated her for the past days so she had never ventured very close. Upon doing so, she discovered a small peephole near the top of the door. Looking through it, she was disappointed to find it was blocked. “So they can see me all the time but I can’t see them.” Marian shuttered uncomfortably. “They see you when you’re sleeping. They know when you’re awake.” she sang.
That night, knowing they would come check on her after she was sleeping, Marian kept herself awake. It was difficult remaining still and awake on the very hard floor and her mind began to wander over and over. She fought to stay awake and luckily, the nervousness of the potential visit aided her fending off sleep. Her breath caught in her chest as she heard light footsteps outside her door. “Just stay calm and breathe slowly.” she quietly reminded herself.
He raced to the front door eager to hear the news. Entering the foyer James saw the two police officers from before accompanied by another square, abrasive man in a grey suit with long graying hair. He wore thick glasses, which made his curious, darting grey eyes look disproportionate to his face. The man introduced himself as Dr. Greene, the investigator working on Marian’s case. Amid the officials stood Mr. Lorett, seeming lost in his own house. He had the look of a puppy left outside in the rain, though no one took notice of it. James imagined that Marian’s absence hit him rather hard. It was enough to take care the extra needs of Charlene but to do so without a wife and with a daughter potentially in danger, or worse. He walked slowly, in his own world unless spoken to, then he would immediately snap out of it and join the conversation for a moment.
“I understand you had close connections with the girl and were, in fact, the last to speak to her?” Dr. Greene questioned. He prepared himself for another torrent of questions. “Yes sir, I last spoke to her at 4:37 on Tuesday morning.” The conversation flashed through his mind for the hundredth time.
Expecting more questions, James braced himself, but was surprised when instead Dr. Greene pulled a manila envelope out of his briefcase. This was found in Mr. Lorett’s mailbox this morning. Dr. Greene opened the envelope and a picture of Marian slid out onto the coffee table. James’ stomach immediately knotted up and he wished he hadn’t eaten as much lasagna. Mr. Lorett grimaced and turned away from the photo. Startled, James stood, “What is this? Is she alive?”
“This is a picture of Marian, it was taken this afternoon by those holding her hostage. She is still alive, just drugged in this picture. There was a note accompanying it but only a few words were legible due to the rain disintegrating the paper. “
“She’s alive.” James thought to himself. “She’s still alive.”