Available Darkness: Chapter 17
(Serial and Milk: Available Darkness is a serialized thriller co-written by David Wright and Sean Platt. A new chapter appears here each Friday. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them here.)
“Do you believe in fate?” Abigail asked from her spot, curled on the front seat as John drove in search of the address he found scrawled on the note in his pocket. Something told him that if they could find the location soon, he would find safety, and perhaps some answers to his many questions. He glanced down at the map, they were a few miles from their destination. They had about three hours of darkness left.
John pointed to his head, reminding the girl of his missing memories prior to finding her.
“Oh yeah,” she nodded drowsily before closing her eyes.
They drove in shared silence as they rolled along a lingering stretch of highway in an old pickup he snatched from behind a garage. The keys had been left under the floor mat, which made John wonder if he’d been particularly lucky or if the truck was in such poor shape that its owner didn’t care if it were stolen. Considering his run of luck, he wasn’t too optimistic. However, it beat the alternative of driving a hot car with a bullet riddled windshield.
Half an hour earlier, John asked her about her abduction by the men in the van and was troubled that she couldn’t remember anything after the cop was shot in front of her. Her next memory was waking in the woods. While her memory prior to the cop’s murder was completely intact, the parallel to John’s own condition was not lost on him. He decided not to press her for memories she didn’t have. He had a feeling that his past was going to find him soon enough.
“I believe,” Abigail said long after John had thought she’d drifted back to sleep.
“In fate?” he asked, wondering how a girl who has lived such a horrible life until now could believe in something like fate. How could you believe that shit like this was meant to be, or worse, planned out by some unknown architect of misery?
“Yes,” she said, “I knew you would come and save me. Don’t you remember the drawing?”
“I do,” he said, treading cautiously, “But I think it’s more likely a coincidence than fate which led me to you. I was buried alive, running away from God knows what and just happened to stumble into your back yard.”
“Nothing just happens,” Abigail said.
He glanced over at her. Her eyes held a serious hope he was loathe to crush with his cynicism. He had to remind himself that he was not dealing with an ordinary child and couldn’t truly understand the fragility she hid behind her brave façade.
“Profound words for an 11-year old,” he said, trying to brighten the mood with a smile.
“I’m almost twelve,” she snapped back, a bit defensive.
He looked over to see if she appeared as wounded as she sounded and wasn’t surprised by the sight of her crossed arms and furrowed brow.
Suddenly, a horn split the moment in an angry burst. John glanced up to see that he had drifted across the center line into oncoming traffic.
“Holy shit!” he blurted as he swerved back into his own lane, the back end of the truck fishtailing as its rear wheels tried to find purchase against the pavement. He fully expected a tire to come flying off or for the truck to simply fall apart. Another horn blared, this time from behind, as lights filled his rearview mirror and the truck’s cabin before swerving right. The car passed, the driver’s middle finger at full mast, all for John.
John looked back to make sure he hadn’t drawn the attention of any law enforcement. No flashing lights yet. His heart was pounding hard in his chest.
“You sure you don’t want me to drive?” Abigail asked.
He turned to catch her smiling wide, eyes bright.
“No, I think we’ll wait a few years before you get behind the wheel again,” he said. He wasn’t sure if it were too soon to joke about the incidents of earlier and was relieved when the silence broke with a giggle.
Their collective laughter filled the cabin.
Though John had no memory of other children, let alone his own childhood, he wondered if all 11-year olds were as articulate as Abigail. If they all wondered about things like God, fate and their place in the universe. He wasn’t sure if her maturity came as a result of her situation, forced to grow up so quickly, or if she had always been this way. He couldn’t imagine that other children who were held captive and abused for several years would be able to present anything close to the normality Abigail seemed to wear like skin. Perhaps, he wondered, she was in a state of shock, and the inevitable breakdown was yet to come.
“Are all 11…” he asked before catching her cross look, “er, I mean, all 12-year olds as smart as you?”
“I don’t know. The kids in the books I read always seemed pretty smart.”
“Books?” John asked.
Abigail then went on to explain that Stacy used to bring her books from the local library. Abigail read many books during her captivity, such as Harry Potter, The Westing Game, the Paratime series and pretty much everything ever written by Roald Dahl. She rattled off a long list with every other title seeming vaguely familiar to John. Abigail said the stories offered her an escape that allowed her to live through the hell that Randy Webster had rained upon her daily.
“She wasn’t so bad,” Abigail said, looking down, thinking about Stacy. “He abused her, too. Sometimes he made me watch and I could see in her eyes that she didn’t want me to see what was happening. And even though he asked her to… do things to me, she never did. It was the only time she was ever brave to him. And he beat her up each time she said no.”
John didn’t know what to say. He simply sat there, eyes on the road, trying not to let the welling tears blur his vision.
Abigail continued, her voice a bit shaky, “She was just as much a prisoner as I was. I tried a few times to get her to set us free when he wasn’t home, but she was too afraid.”
John thought back to when Abigail first learned that he had killed both Randy and Stacy. The girl had said “good.”
“If you liked her, why did you say ‘good’ when I said they were both dead?” he asked.
“I was mad at her,” Abigail said quietly, perhaps feeling guilty for what she’d said.
“Why?” John asked.
“She wouldn’t do something for me,” Abigail said, only a piece of a puzzle falling from her lips.
John wondered how far he should pursue the conversation, wondered if she wanted him to ask these questions or if he were doing some damage by doing so. His curiosity finally got the better of him.
“What did you want her to do?”
“Randy got mad at her for not listening to him and told her that she couldn’t bring me books anymore. He actually came into my room and found two books I was hiding under the mattress. He ripped all the pages out and then did this.”
Abigail pulled up her shirt to reveal an angry red cigarette burn just under her ribcage.
John felt hot tears stinging his cheeks.
“Jesus Christ,” he said, trying his best to keep his attention on the road.
“He had taken the only thing I had. I wanted to die. I begged her to kill me if she wasn’t going to set me free… but she wouldn’t. She just cried and I got mad at her and told her not to ever talk to me again. That was last week.”
He looked over to see Abigail curled into a comma on the seat, elbow on her knees, head buried in the crook as her body shattered into a series of sobs.
He wanted to comfort her with a hand on the shoulder, a hug, something, and grew angry at whatever curse prevented him from the most basic expression of humanity – touch.
As hopelessness sank it’s claws into his heart, something else pulled at John’s attention. Ahead was the street where he needed to turn. A minute later, he found himself pulling rubber against pavement.
Welcome to the Shady Pines Motel, a sign read, its neon letters now dark and as defunct as the abandoned and boarded up motel which lay in front of them. An old, battered looking VW van sat parked at the far end of the lot.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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