She sat in darkness, listening to the falling of water drops. Their gentle splatters reverberated like crushing thunder in the small room, where no other sound but her own sobs and those goddamn drops came. Tap, tap, tap.
Rachel was beyond fear and terror. She was even beyond hysteria. There was just nothing left, all the tears shed from her eyes and all the air screamed from her lungs, making her throat sore. She probably sobbed only out of habit now. There was no other reason, she felt dead inside.
Perhaps she was dead. She couldn’t see anything, she was numb to her feelings and her whole body was in pain. It seemed to fit a description of hell, only this was worse. In hell, you’re at least supposed to have fire, for heat and light. Here, in this black pit, Rachel had neither.
But no, she was not dead. She could hear those damn drops, like a pipe leaking somewhere. She was not in hell, but in some small room, locked away. And now and then, her captors would come and give her some repulsive liquid to drink, forcing it down her throat.
No food, no water. Just that iron-scented liquid, that was so slick and stuck to everything if it spilled. She didn’t dare to ponder on what it could have been, but it was not like she could occupy her mind with anything else. It must have been blood. She bit her tongue before and knew the taste.
Surprisingly, she didn’t retch once.
She had no idea how long she’d been held prisoner. Or where she was, or why she was there, or what was going to happen to her. The only thing she knew was that a man - no, not a man, a monster - had kidnapped her, raped her, and locked her in this pitch-black room. The events that lead to her being here were fuzzy in her mind, shock, and terror overwriting them like data on a hard drive.
Mortensen… That name haunted her in the darkness. She pulled her arms and legs closer, not because she was numbingly cold, but because she wanted to hide from her thoughts. His eyes were yellow…
It must have been the shock. She must have imagined things. The man could even have drugged her, for all she knew. He was a sick psycho, a deranged lunatic who drove her home four times a week for the last five years… and she didn’t even notice him.
The realization was horrifying, but she could think of nothing else in the dark. How close to danger she was, each night on that bus? Sometimes she was the sole passenger. Sometimes she fell asleep on her seat, and the man would call the station name, to wake her up. He could have kidnapped her a dozen times over, if not a hundred! And she had no idea!
The world became a very frightening place, all of a sudden. How many dangers were lurking out there, preying on unaware people? Was she ever really safe?
Will she ever be safe again?
The pain in her belly brought her back from her dark thoughts, into the dark room. Her stomach was growling from the severe hunger, but that was not the only source of the pain. It was… her womb. The man raped her - that alone was something she could hardly believe, her mind carefully making it seem like a dream, instead of reality - and now she felt like… like something was growing inside her. Like she was pregnant.
Rachel touched her belly with her hand and noticed it was a little puffy. Was that from the lack of food? Or was she pregnant… with a monster? That would explain her sickness, but how could it grow so fast? How long was she trapped here, weeks, months? She had no idea. But she couldn’t survive without food for more than a week. Could it be that she was here only a week? It seemed like an eternity.
And then she felt it. A kick.
Her whole body shivered and fresh tears poured down her face. She was surprised to discover she had any left. I’m pregnant, she thought. And with… with…
Rachel and her boyfriend tried having a baby, but the doctor told them her womb was barren. He told them if they wanted to have children they’d have to adopt.
And now, she seemed to be bearing a child. A rapist’s child.
A loud, sharp sound cut through Rachel’s despair and footsteps entered the small room. Rachel skittered into the corner like a caged animal and covered her head with her arms. The footsteps stopped in front of her and a strong grip pulled away her weakened arms and forced her head up. She could smell the scent of iron.
“No…” she croaked, her voice sounding alien to her. “Please… enough-”
The words were drowned by that accursed liquid. Her captor poured it down her throat, making her cough. She spat some of it out, but the figure slapped her on the cheek and forced her mouth open again. Rachel cried as she drank the vile liquid. It was the only thing they fed her with and despite her disgust, she found herself gulping it down eagerly. At least it was warm and she was freezing.
Some of it spilled over her chin and fell on her arms and belly. She was glad for the warmth, ignoring the smell and the slickness of the touch.
Then, the grip on her arms and head released, and whoever was there with her went to the door.
Rachel spat the remnants of the liquid, so she could speak. “Please… let me-”
The door slammed shut, the metal screeching.
The footsteps walked away.
The sound of drops splattering on the floor came again. Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Are you sure this is the road?”
“How do you know?” Briggs squinted his eyes, trying to read what the sign said, checking on the GPS to confirm it. It was pouring like hell.
“Gut feeling,” Damien said. He held onto the steering wheel like he held on to his sanity. The events of the past week shook him to his core.
But of course, it wasn’t just a gut feeling. Damien knew exactly where they were going. He recognized the address and now that he’d seen the gravel road, he’d recognized that too.
You son of a bitch, Mortensen.
“Damien?” He saw Briggs looking at him from the passenger seat. “You’ve got a little…” He pointed at the corner of his mouth. Damien touched his lips. Blood. He wiped it with a handkerchief, which had accumulated quite a few blood stains already.
“Geeze, man, you might want to get an appointment at the dentist,” Briggs said. “I’ve never heard of gums bleeding that much.”
The dentist. Damien could imagine the man’s surprise when he opened his mouth and two little fangs would be sticking out next to his canines.
“It’s fine,” he said and put the handkerchief away. It’s far from fine. “Keep your eyes out if any car comes from behind.”
Damien put the gear in drive and turned the police car from the tarmac, onto the gravel road. He was grateful for Briggs and Cunnings accompanying him. He wouldn’t trust anyone else with what was probably waiting for them at the end of the road.
After Mortensen’s visit, the police station was like an anthill. There was a lot of upheaval, the incident even made the news. Damien, of course, couldn’t tell anyone that it was a Nightborn - they’d lock him up in an asylum - and so he couldn’t explain why there was so much blood in the hall and how could the intruder get away with it. At first, they organized a search, matching Damien’s description of Mortensen, but with no lead coming up for more than a week now, the suspicion was starting to fall on Damien himself. He was alone in the hallway when it happened and the intruder was neither found dead nor alive. It all looked like Damien was trying to cover something up. And his agitated attitude, old demons resurfacing, did not help his image.
“If you ask me, your gut might be right,” Cunnings said from the back seat. “Look at this road! Who’d be driving on it to get home, if not a serial killer?”
The road was in terrible condition. Damien cursed for not taking the SUV, as the standard police car wasn’t well suited for such terrain. A pickup would do better.
After seeing the address where Mortensen lived - given to Damien by the bus company employers - Damien couldn’t believe the audacity of the Nightborn bastard. He didn’t even bother hiding it. It was the same farm where Mortensen took Damien to five years ago, and where he showed him who he really was. It was where he shared his vision with Damien, speaking of grand things that he was a part of. Things that allured Damien so much, that he joined the Nightborn.
The worst mistake of my life.
The downpour turned the road into a mud trap. The police car nearly got stuck, but Damien was able to push through. After a while, the forest gave way and an old Victorian house appeared, with a barn next to it.
“We’re here,” he said and turned on the blue and red lights, sounding the siren once.
“Look at it,” Briggs said. “Someone actually lives here?”
The complex looked abandoned, it seemed to have deteriorated much since Damien was last here. A perfect hideout for a rat.
“Seems like no one’s home,” commented Cunnings. There were no lights and no cars parked upfront.
Damien pulled the car to the front porch and put the gear in park. He eyed the house through the windscreen wipers and the rain. It was early in the morning, but due to the rainfall, it was still very dark.
“Let’s go,” Damien said.
“In this rain?” Cunnings didn’t seem too enthusiastic. “You expect to find anybody home? There’s no car.”
“I don't know what to expect,” said Damien. “But this is the only lead we have. And if there is a chance we can find the victim, any second we waste could be deadly for her.” He opened the door and went out in the rain. His colleagues followed.
Damien left the police lights on and ran the few yards to the cover of the front porch. There were curtains on the windows and Damien noticed muddied footprints on the porch floorboards. He inspected the lock on the door, and it was new. Somebody does live here.
He thumped on the door. “Police, open up!”
He knocked again, harder. “Police, we have a warrant, open up or we break in!”
Cunnings and Briggs looked at him. They didn’t have a warrant, but the bastard Mortensen didn’t need to know that.
“Cross, I don’t think anyone’s-”
Briggs didn’t finish the sentence as all of a sudden the curtains on the window next to the door were pulled away and a face appeared. It was a woman. Damien placed a hand on his gun.
“Ma’am open the door!” He glanced at his colleagues, signaling to be ready for anything.
There was a metallic grind of a key and the door opened inside for a foot, as much as the chain-lock allowed. A woman with a strikingly pale face appeared at the door.
“What’s this about?” she barked.
Damien flashed his badge. “I’m detective Ross. We’ve come to speak with one Ebenezer Mortensen. Is he-”
“Never heard of him,” the woman cut in. She was about to close the door, but Damien placed his foot in between. The woman’s eyes drilled into Damien and he could almost smell her hostility.
“This is his address. Ma’am, if you are going to obstruct police business-”
A wailing cry pierced through the onslaught of rain and chilled Damien to the bones. It came from inside the house.
“What was that?” Cunnings asked.
“Open the door, now!”
The woman hit Damien’s foot with an iron poker, causing him to stumble back in surprise and before he could stop her, she closed the door. He cursed and took out his gun. This time, he had silver bullets with him. Briggs and Cunnings took their guns out too and fell in behind Damien.
I’m coming, you son of a bitch!
He raised his good foot and kicked the door.
“Please,” begged Rachel. “I think I’m having contractions!”
The air was forced out of her lungs as another sharp stab of pain pierced her womb. What is happening to me? Could she give birth after only a week? She still wasn’t sure how long she’d been locked away. She wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
Somebody was dragging her from her dark room and into a hallway. They have heard her screams of pain, for once, and came to check on her. She was so weak from starvation, cold, and this new pain in her womb that she could barely stand, let alone walk. The person who came for her was a man by the sound of his grunts, but it was not… him.
Something stabbed her from the inside. She screamed so loud that her ears rang from it. A hand covered her mouth.
“Shut up!” The first words Rachel heard since the day her life became a nightmare. “Couldn’t you wait a couple more hours? He should be back from the hunt by now… He’d like to be present at his child’s birth.”
Rachel gasped into the man’s hand, fighting to keep conscious through the pain. She felt her water leak. It hurt.
Then, a loud crash came from somewhere above. Rachel could hear shouting and quick footsteps, running across the floorboards. Someone screamed. A gun went off.
The man removed his hand from Rachel’s mouth and she took in a lungful of air.
“Be quiet,” the man hissed and she heard him walk away.
“Please,” she whispered. “Don’t leave me in the dark…”
A wooden door creaked open and faint light entered the hallway. To Rachel, it seemed like the sun itself had descended on her. She could finally see something after spending so much time in complete darkness. She saw a concrete corridor, stairs leading up to a door, through which her captor went through - and a flash of blue and red lights that came from outside the door.
Then the moment was gone, the doors closed and darkness enveloped her again. But now she at least knew she was not dead. There was light still. And she began crawling towards where the light was in her memory.
From above, more shouting came and more gunfire. Something fell on the floor. Somebody kept screaming.
Rachel crawled on her elbows and knees, squeezing all the strength she had left in her body. She tried ignoring the pain in her belly and the terrible sounds coming from upstairs. She focused on the lingering shape of the door behind her eyes, the remnant of light.
Please, she prayed, please may it be over. Please let me come out.
She felt her way on the floor, bouncing up against the walls until she touched something solid up ahead. The first step. Her heart raced with hope for the first time in this hell and she forced herself up. A second step. And a third.
She reached out with her arms and felt for the door. It was rough wood, with splinters. She felt for the door handle. And the door opened without her pushing down on the handle.
A girl fell into his arms. Damien nearly shot her from surprise.
He quickly caught her. She looked nothing like the young woman from the photo. She was covered in blood, some of it dried and cracked, some of it fresh.
“Are you hurt?”
She mumbled something incoherent. She seemed on the verge of losing consciousness.
“Briggs! Help Cunnings to the car! I’ve found her!”
He put his gun away and picked up the girl. She was alarmingly light.
What has he done to you?
One Nightborn, the pale-skinned woman, lay dead on the floor, dropped by the silver bullets from Damien’s gun. Bullets from his colleague’s guns had no effect. Luckily, the other three Nightborn that were hiding in the corners ran away as soon as Damien killed one of them.
“How is he?” Damien asked Briggs, referring to their injured colleague.
“The bastard bit him,” exclaimed Briggs, who helped Cunnings walk. “He bit him! What the hell, Cross?”
Hell indeed. “To the car,” he ushered. “We need to get them to the hospital!”
They walked out in the rain and Damien gently placed Rachel to the passenger seat and strapped her in.
“Put Cunnings in the back and stay with him. Put pressure on his wound.” Cunnings was not only bitten but also stabbed. Damien wasn’t sure if Briggs saw it, but it wasn’t a knife wound. One of the Nightborn gutted Cunnings with his claws.
Briggs helped their college in the car and sat next to him. Damien jumped behind the wheel and started the car.
The girl next to him mumbled something.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you to safety,” Damien said. “Save your strength.”
“He… is here…”
Damien frowned. The girl was passing in and out of consciousness.
We’ve got to hurry.
He slammed on the pedal and turned on the siren. The clear sound cut through the battering rain like a trumpet of hope. He brought the car around, wheels spinning on the gravel, and then slammed on the brakes.
Up ahead, coming from the mudded road, were three pickups. Damien felt a trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth.
He is here, Blaze.